Last October Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad, spoke openly about assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“He knows very well that his assassination is not impossible,” Cohen said in an interview. Soleimani had boasted that Israel tried to assassinate him in 2006 and failed.
“With all due respect to his bluster,” Cohen said, “he hasn’t necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets.”
“Is Israel targeting Iran’s top general for assassination?” I asked last October. On January 3, Soleimani was killed in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
Soleimani’s convoy was struck by US missiles as he left a meeting at Baghdad’s airport amid anti-Iranian and anti-American demonstrations in Iraq. Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia had agreed to withdraw from the US diplomatic compound in return for a promise that the Iraqi government would allow a parliamentary vote on expelling 5,000 US troops from the country.
The Pentagon issued a statement confirming the military operation, which came “at the direction of the president” and was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The Pentagon claimed that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under indictment for criminal charges, was the first and only national leader to support Trump’s action, while claiming that Trump had acted entirely on his own.
“Just as Israel has the right to self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right,” Netanyahu told reporters in Greece. “Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of American citizens and other innocents, and he was planning more attacks.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed retaliation for the general’s death, tweeting that “Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”
Soleimani was the most capable foe of the United States and Israel in the region. As chief of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a master of Iran’s asymmetric warfare strategy, using proxy forces to bleed Iran’s enemies, while preserving the government’s ability plausibly to deny involvement.
After the US invasion of Iraq, he funded and trained anti-American militias that launched low-level attacks on US occupation forces, killing hundreds of US servicemen and generating pressure for US withdrawal.
In recent years, Soleimani led two successful Iranian military operations: the campaign to drive Islamic State (ISIS) out of western Iraq in 2015 and the campaign to crush the jihadist forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Israel denounced Iran’s role in both operations but could not prevent Iran from claiming victory.
Soleimani had assumed a leading role in Iraqi politics in the past year. The anti-ISIS campaign relied on Iraqi militias, which the Iranians supported with money, weapons and training. After ISIS was defeated, these militias maintained a prominent role in Iraq that many resented, leading to demonstrations and rioting. Soleimani was seeking to stabilize the Iraqi government and channel the protests against the United States when he was killed.
In the same period, Israel pursued its program of targeted assassination. In an effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad assassinated at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman. Yossi Melman, another Israeli journalist, says Mossad has assassinated 60-70 enemies outside of its borders since its founding in 1947, though none as prominent as Soleimani.
Israel also began striking at the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq last year. The United States did the same on December 29, killing 19 fighters and prompting anti-American demonstrations as big as the anti-Iranian demonstrations of a month ago.
Now the killing of Soleimani promises more unrest, if not open war. The idea that it will deter Iranian attacks may come to rank with George W Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” in the annals of American folly.
“This doesn’t mean war,” wrote former US Defense Department official Andrew Exum, “it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war.”
The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported two years ago that Washington had given Israel the green light to assassinate Soleimani, as Haaretz recounted:
“Al-Jarida, which in recent years … [has] broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that ‘there is an American-Israeli agreement’ that Soleimani is a ‘threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.’ It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.”
Trump has now fulfilled the wishes of Mossad. After proclaiming his intention to end America’s “stupid endless wars,” the US president has in effect declared war on the largest country in the region in solidarity with Israel, the most unpopular country in the Middle East.
This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute, which provided it to Asia Times.