Quassem Soleimani (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu (R).
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS & MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Iran’s Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Maj.- Gen. Qassem Soleimani was less than an hour’s drive away from Israel’s border on Friday, according to a report by Kuwaiti paper Al-Jarida.
This visit, the report claimed, is what triggered Israel’s rare daytime strikes on Iranian targets in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport on Sunday. This, in turn led to Iranian forces launching a surface-to-surface missile towards northern Israel’s an hour later.
Quoting a source, the report said that Soleimani – one of the most prominent and influential military figures in Iran – visited eastern Ghariyya in the Daraa province less than 40 km. from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. According to the source, Soleimani’s visit to a home in the area between 8-10 p.m. was monitored by intelligence officials.
“Soleimani’s visit to a location less than 40 km. from the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights violated a previous US-Russian-Israeli agreement,” regarding the Iranian presence in the war-torn country, the report said.
Israel has worked closely with the United States and Russia to try and get Iranian and Hezbollah forces to leave Syria, where they have been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, since the civil war began there in March 2011.
While there has been a reduction of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters in Syria’s Golan Heights, “The possibility of opening the Golan front against Israel in the event of an attack on its territory,” remains an option for Soleimani. He has recommended to the Russians that Iran would not comply with any red lines set by the Jewish State, according to the report.
The report also claimed that the Russians had notified the Iranians 30 minutes in advance of which targets Israel would attack, adding “The Iranians managed to evacuate the areas and minimize the damage.”
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 on behalf of President Assad. Israel and Russia have been using a deconfliction mechanism in place over Syria in order to avoid any unwanted conflict.
The relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow has been strained, since a Russian military plane was downed by Syria air defenses following an Israeli airstrike on nearby Iranian targets.
Nevertheless, the IAF has largely had free reign to carry out strikes on targets that are deemed a threat to the Jewish State.
On Sunday, the IDF said that the surface-to-surface missile launched by the Iranians towards Mount Hermon had been fired from an area in the vicinity of Damascus, which the “relevant parties” had assured would be free from Iranian forces.
According to the report, a senior Iranian official said Solemani returned to Tehran on Monday following the confrontation between the two countries, and debriefed the Iranian Supreme National Security Council on his visit to Syria and the Israeli attacks.
According to Soleimani, the only way to stop Israeli attacks is to respond with three missiles for every one Israel fires, and to attempt to shoot down Israeli fighter jets, even those flying over Lebanon. He stressed the need to respond to strikes as they would lead to the fall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections.
“If any strike is directed at Iranian forces they will respond in the way it deems appropriate,” the report said.
On Tuesday, Syria’s Ambassador the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, threatened that Damascus would target Ben-Gurion Airport if the UN Security Council does not put an end to the Israeli strikes.
“Does drawing the attention of the war-makers in this Council require us to exercise our legitimate right to self-defense and respond to Israeli aggression on Damascus International Airport by responding in the same way to Tel Aviv Airport?” He was quoted as saying, by Syria’s SANA news agency.
“Isn’t it time now for the UN Security council to stop the Israeli repeated aggressions on the Syrian Arab republic territories?”
Tamar Beeri contributed to this report.