Iran has warned Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah that he could be the next target of the United States, Israeli television reported Friday.
The head of the Lebanese group has been advised to boost security measures after the US killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on January 3, according to the unsourced report by journalist Ronen Bergman on Channel 13 news.
Hezbollah, which is designated as a terror organization by the US and Israel, has vowed to avenge the killing of Soleimani, who oversaw Iran’s regional security strategy.
The TV report also claimed that Israel repeatedly considered killing Soleimani since 2011 and had opportunities to do so, but did not act because of concerns over the retaliatory response from Iran and Hezbollah.
Responding to the report, Likud Minister Yoav Gallant noted that Iran and Hezbollah have seen Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghadi and now Soleimani all killed by the US over the past decade.
“The most prominent figure left in Middle Eastern terror is without doubt Nasrallah. Their simple assessment must be that he should be wary,” Gallant, a member of the high-level security cabinet and a former IDF general, told the network.
“The Middle East is a safer and calmer place today without Soleimani,” he added.
Gallant also stressed the strike on Soleimani in Baghdad was an American action carried out for American interests, saying it was part of tensions between the US and Iran in Iraq.
The security cabinet was briefed this week that Iran was unlikely to attack Israel in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, even though some Iranian leaders have cited Israel as a potential target of their revenge attacks.
“Israel was not involved in the killing and there’s no reason it will be dragged into it,” a senior official was quoted saying by Hebrew media after the briefing.
Nevertheless, one of Israel’s leading national security think tanks warned Monday there is a growing risk of large-scale war along Israel’s northern borders in the coming year, in part due to Iran’s increasing “determination and daring.”
Also this week, Iran released previously unseen video of Soleimani with Nasrallah and former top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a reported joint operation between the Mossad and CIA in 2008.
The undated footage shows Nasrallah and Mughniyeh talking and laughing at a table, as Soleimani sits between them.
Soleimani was reported to have been with Mughniyeh shortly before he was killed by a car bomb in Damascus.
In response to Soleimani’s killing, Nasrallah called Sunday for Shiite militias to attack US military assets throughout the Middle East — including with suicide bombings — and predicted that the Americans would leave the region in “coffins,” taking Israel with them.
He also claimed that Israel had requested that the US kill Soleimani.
“Israel wanted to assassinate the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Syria, but it couldn’t or didn’t dare. It turned to the United States, which did it openly,” Nasrallah said. “Israel saw Soleimani as the most dangerous man since the state was established, since he encircled the country with missiles.”
Soleimani had close ties with Hezbollah and was heavily involved in its operations. In a rare interview late last year, Soleimani claimed he and Nasrallah escaped an Israeli assassination attempt when Israeli aircraft targeted them in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Nasrallah has made limited public appearances and taken extensive security precautions since the 2006 war, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September calling him “the man in the bunker in Beirut.”
Separately Friday, US officials said the American military tried, but failed, to take out another senior Iranian commander on the same day that an American airstrike killed Soleimani.
The officials said a military airstrike targeted Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Islamic Republican Guard Corps, but the mission was not successful. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a classified mission.
Officials said both Soleimani and Shahlai were on approved military targeting lists, which indicates a deliberate effort by the US to cripple the leadership of Iran’s Quds Force, which has been designated a terror organization by the US.
Abdul Reza Shahla'i, the IRGC's Man in Sana'a, is wanted for Justice ⚖️
The U.S. Department of State is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to Shahla'i or to the disruption of the IRGC's financial mechanisms in Yemen and in the region. pic.twitter.com/cyiojVfPmL
— Rewards for Justice (@Rewards4Justice) December 5, 2019
Trump administration officials have justified the killing of Soleimani as an act of self-defense, saying he was planning military acts that threatened large numbers of American military and diplomatic officials in the Middle East. Iran called the attack an act of terrorism. On January 8, it launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house American and coalition forces. No one was killed in that retaliation.
The State Department has offered a reward of $15 million for information leading to the disruption of IRGC finances, including Shahlai, a key financier in the organization. The State Department said he “has a long history of targeting Americans and US allies globally,” and planned multiple assassinations of coalition forces in Iraq. It said that his activities included providing weapons and explosives to Shia militia groups and directing a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, in 2011.
The Pentagon declined to discuss the highly-classified operation.
“We have seen the report of a January 2 airstrike in Yemen, which is long-understood as a safe space for terrorists and other adversaries to the United States. The Department of Defense does not discuss alleged operations in the region,” said Navy Cdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
The Washington Post first reported the development.
Agencies contributed to this report.