The year 2020 was only three days old when an event happened that could be the most important for Israel in years and that has the potential to set alight the whole Middle East.
Early Friday morning, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone killed the second most powerful Iranian official Qassem Soleimani the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the commander of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia and the deputy commander of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of Shiite militias in Iraq.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis were targeted with Hellfire missiles after the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia killed an American engineer and wounded a number of US soldiers during an attack on a military facility near the city of Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Thereafter, the US military launched five missile strikes on Kata’ib Hezbollah bases in both Syria and Iraq after which Soleimani ordered the ransacking of the US embassy in the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad.
By ordering the attack on the US embassy Soleimani clearly overplayed his hand since the US is still traumatized by earlier attacks on its diplomatic missions in both Iran (1979 hostage crisis) and Benghazi in Libya when in September 2012 an angry mob ransacked the US mission in the city and killed the American ambassador and three other US citizens.
The Quds commander apparently became intoxicated by the successes he scored in the attempt to create a Shiite Crescent that would ultimately threaten Israel’s existence, and the admiration he received by Iranians and Shiite leaders outside Iran.
Israeli politicians and officials saw Soleimani as the architect of the emerging new Persian empire which now includes Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and to a lesser degree Yemen.
The Mossad had Soleimani on its hit list after earlier Israeli plots to kill Soleimani were called off at last moment or were discovered such as the attempt last year to assassinate the Quds commander when he was scheduled to visit the shrine in memory of his father and the Iranian authorities discovered a 500 kg bomb that was hidden beneath his chair.
Earlier in January 2008, the Mossad had Soleimani in its sights when he met Hezbollah terror-chief Imad Mugniyeh who after meeting with the Iranian commander in Damascus was assassinated by a small explosive device that blew up his car.
Soleimani was admired by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who treated the Quds commander as his own son, and appointed him a special adviser. The Iranian leader last year praised Soleimani for his strategic successes and called him “a living martyr.”
The threat that Soleimani posed to Israel cannot be underestimated.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned the Iranian general to be careful in his statements and actions against the Jewish state but it didn’t prevent Soleimani from building up strong ties with Israel’s Palestinian adversaries Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad while also supplying Hezbollah in Lebanon with advanced weaponry such as the Kornet anti-tank missile.
Qassem Soleimani was one of the IRGC officers who founded Hezbollah and more recently was behind the formation of the Golan Liberation Brigade an all-Shiite force which was founded with the goal of eliminating Israel via a multi-front war.
The Quds commander has also overseen the major battle against rebels in Aleppo, Syria and the Qalamoun offensive where Iran reportedly is running an underground nuclear facility in the vicinity of the town of Qusayr.
In Iraq Soleimani became increasingly active after the popular unrest started to threaten Iranian influence over the country and caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul al-Mahdi an Iranian puppet.
It was Soleimani who advised the Iraqi government to use snipers against the protesters and this resulted in the deaths of 500 of them.
He later again intervened in Iraq to secure a pro-Iranian politician would be appointed the new Iraqi Prime Minister and reportedly ordered al-Hashd al-Shaabi to attack US facilities in the country such as the American embassy in Baghdad that was earlier struck by missiles and mortars.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed after Soleimani’s assassination that the Quds commander was actively plotting an imminent attack “that could have killed dozens or hundreds of Americans.”
That could be true but the fact of the matter is that Soleimani flew to Baghdad after visiting Beirut and Damascus according to Israeli media.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu at least knew in advance that Soleimani was scheduled to be assassinated.
During a speech to the Israeli nation, last week about his legal troubles Netanyahu hinted that something big was about to happen considering Iran. He said that “very, very dramatic things were happening in the region” and later repeated this warning in a Tweet.
The Israeli leader also spoke on the phone with Pompeo at least three times over the past ten days while Netanyahu earlier suddenly traveled to Portugal where he discussed Iran with the Secretary of State.
Pompeo said after the Soleimani assassination that unspecified partners in the Middle East had been “fantastic” in the preparations for the attack on the Quds Commander.
It could be that the two decided that the US military would take out Soleimani to prevent Iran from getting an alibi for attacking Israel.
In this respect, it was remarkable that Netanyahu sufficed with a short statement in which he said that the US, just like Israel, had the right to defend itself.
The Israeli PM, furthermore, ordered his ministers not to comment on the assassination of Soleimani.
IRGC commanders now threaten “Israeli cities”could be subject to revenge attacks and this explains why the IDF has raised it’s level of alertness and ordered the temporary closure of the Ski-site on Mount Hermon the scene of earlier Iranian missile attacks.
Some pundits now claim that the situation in the Middle East could end-up in a new World War after the assassination of Soleimani. The closure of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran could indeed lead to a very serious escalation in the current war between Iran, Israel and the United States and drag other countries into the conflict.