A senior Israeli military officer on Monday commented publicly for the first time on the operation that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani over the weekend, distancing the Jewish state from the US drone strike in Iraq that has left Tehran fuming and vowing revenge.
“Soleimani hurt American interests and represented a significant danger to Americans in the region. We must look at the assassination as part of a fight between Iran and the United States over Iraq’s character. That is the story,” said IDF Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi.
“The assassination also has ramifications for us as Israelis, and we must follow it closely, but we aren’t the main story here — and it’s good that it happened far away,” he said at a conference in Jerusalem organized by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily and the Ynet news website.
“We are observing from the side. I assume the coming few weeks will be very interesting,” he added.
Halevi said Israel was ready for a “very significant reaction” if the Islamic Republic’s retaliation for the hit included operations by its Palestinian allies such as Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Earlier Monday, the leader of the Hamas terror group spoke at Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran, crediting the Quds Force leader with building his and other Palestinian groups.
What Soleimani “provided to Palestine and the resistance has brought them to the position they are in today in terms of power and steadfastness,” Haniyeh said. Dubbing Soleimani “the martyr of Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said his death would not deter Palestinian terror groups from fighting Israel.
Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, had an outsize role in managing Iran’s network of proxy groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Haniyeh’s appearance at the funeral came as hundreds of thousands of people massed in Tehran to bid farewell to Soleimani, the country’s most powerful general.
He was killed in a US drone strike early Friday near Baghdad airport in an attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.