Israel was involved in the American airstrike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, according to a former military intelligence chief. It was the first time Israel’s role in the operation had been acknowledged publicly.
Soleimani led the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and oversaw Iran’s international cooperation with paramilitary groups. In January 2020, he was murdered in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport, an episode that threatened to plunge the two countries into full-fledged conflict.
NBC News reported a week after the airstrike that Israeli intelligence assisted in confirming the facts of Soleimani’s trip from Damascus to Baghdad. Israel “had access to Soleimani’s numbers” and relayed the intelligence to the US, according to a Yahoo News article earlier this year.
However, Maj. Gen. Tamir Heyman, who led military intelligence until October and is now retired, appears to be the first official to admit Israel’s involvement.
Heyman’s remarks appeared in a Hebrew-language magazine intimately associated with Israel’s intelligence agencies in November. The interview took place in late September, only a few weeks before his military retirement. According to the writers, Heyman began the interview by discussing the American bombing that killed Soleimani, but in which Israeli intelligence was involved.
“Assassinating Soleimani was a triumph, because the Iranians are, in my opinion, our main adversary “Heyman told the publication. As head of army intelligence, he indicated there were “two significant and important assassinations” during his tenure.
“The first, as I’ve already mentioned, is Qassem Soleimani — it’s extremely rare to find someone so senior, who is the architect of the fighting force, the strategist, and the operator — it’s extremely rare,” he remarked. “The motor of the train of Iranian entrenchment,” Heyman said of Soleimani “Syria, which is close by.
In the last decade, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, although it rarely makes public statements about them. Israel has claimed, however, that it has targeted Iranian-backed forces’ bases and arms supplies to Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon.
Israeli strikes, according to Heyman, were successful in “preventing Iran’s attempt to establish roots in Syria.”
Requests for reaction on Heyman’s remarks were not immediately returned by the Israeli military.
The interview was released at a time when international powers and Iran were negotiating a new accord to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. The previous agreement, reached in 2015, fell apart after the US withdrew unilaterally in 2018 and re-imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran.