No Israeli mourns Soleimani, but Donald Trump’s wider plan on Iran is still unclear

Cutting his overseas trip short, Benjamin Netanyahu orders Israeli ministers to keep silent on Quds commander’s assassination


No one in Israel will shed a tear at Qassem Soleimani’s departure from this world.

In the 22 years that have passed since his appointment as commander of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, he has directed most of the most immediate threats to Israel’s security.

Soon after his arrival in the region in 1998, it was Soleimani who was behind the drastic improvement in Hezbollah’s fighting capabilities in Lebanon. It successful attacks on IDF forces in the “security zone” led to Israel’s final withdrawal from Lebanese territory in 2000.

Six years later, having continued to train and rearm under Soleimani’s eye, Hezbollah fought the IDF to a bloody standstill in the Second Lebanon War — though Soilemani had not authorised the border-attack which sparked off the war.

In the meantime, he had also been in charge of arming Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad — Sunni Palestinian organisations in the Gaza Strip — with advanced anti-tank missiles and their own rocket-production facilities with which to attack Israel.

During this decade, Soleimani was the key figure in the successful attempts to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, while using the opportunity to establish Iranian military bases close to Israeli territory.

These efforts were largely stymied by Israeli airstrikes, but Soleimani had the backing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, despite opposition from President Hasan Rouhani, to keep trying.

In more recent years, Israeli intelligence claims that Soleimani has been setting up missile corps in Iraq and Yemen similar to those of Hezbollah, which could threaten Israel.

Despite their old enmity, Israel had little advance inkling that Soleimani would be a target for American bombs. The US had earlier opportunities to take him out and decided not to take them.

Over the past three years, there has been increasing frustration in Israel’s security echelons at the incoherence of President Donald Trump’s Iran policy. While the administration had withdrawn from the nuclear deal and ramped up sanctions, it had shown little appetite for confronting the Iranians on the ground.

The frustration grew this year, as Mr Trump decided not to respond when Iran shot down an American drone, or to the attacks on shipping in the Persian gulf, or the rocket strike on Saudi oil installations.

Senior Israeli security officials warned that Iran was pushing the boundaries and that an attack on Israel could be expected as well.

The dramatic change in the administration’s policy in the last week — the air strikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and now the assassination of Soleimani — was explained by the death of an American civilian in a militia attack in northern Iraq and US intelligence that indicated Soleimani was planning further attacks.

However Israel is still unclear on whether Mr Trump has a wider long-term plan.

Israel’s chief concern now is that in its attempts to retaliate and avenge Soleimani’s killing, Iran will also attack America’s allies in the region including Israel, whether through border attacks by Iran’s proxies or missile strikes.

Defence Minister Naftali Bennett rushed on Friday morning to hold a meeting with the army commanders and the chief of Mossad. The IDF was put on high alert.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was attending a summit in Greece and was scheduled to stay there over the weekend, announced he would cut his trip short and fly back to Israel before Shabbat.

To avoid any appearances that Israel was directly involved in the assassination of Soleimani, government ministers were told not to give interviews and keep a low profile on the issue.

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