Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie on the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba, in Salahuddin province, in 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ 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 toward northern Israel an hour later.
Quoting a source, the report said that Soleimani – one of the most prominent and influential military figures in Iran – visited eastern al-Ghariyah in the Deraa 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 p.m. and 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 to 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 told the Russians that Iran would not comply with any redlines 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 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 Syrian air defenses following an Israeli airstrike
on nearby Iranian targets. Nevertheless, the IAF has largely had free rein 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 toward 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.
According to the report, Soleimani said that the only way to prevent further Israeli attacks on Iranian assets in Syria is to make sure Netanyahu wouldn’t be reelected.
Netanyahu referenced Soleimani’s comments in a Facebook post above the headline that read: “Al-Quds Commander Threatens: ‘One missile deep into Israel will topple Netanyahu.’”
“Instead of intervening in the elections,” Netanyahu wrote, “it is better for Soleimani to check the situation of the Iranian bases he is trying to establish in Syria. As long as I am prime minister, we will not stop fighting against them.”
Speaking earlier in the day to cadets of the IDF’s officer course currently training at Shizafon, Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel’s is the only army in the world fighting Iran, and it will continue to do so in Syria.
“The main enemy that we face is Iran,” he said. “Iran declares its intention to destroy us with nuclear weapons, which we are committed to thwarting. But Iran is also building forces around us. It wants to squeeze us. They established a forward base in Lebanon, via Hezbollah. They established a southern base in Gaza, supported by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and now they want to establish a third base, right on our border, opposite the Golan Heights, as the Iranian military entrenches itself in Syria.”
Netanyahu said that Israel is committed to fighting Iran and its proxies on all those fronts.
Meanwhile, al-Jarida quoted the senior officer as saying that Soleimani said: “If any strike is directed at Iranian forces, they will respond in the way it deems appropriate.”Herb Keinon contributed to this story.
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