The head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on Tuesday claimed that Israeli aircraft targeted him and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Qassem Soleimani made the comments during his first major interview, a lengthy one-on-one that was screened on Iranian television.
Soleimani described his role in overseeing fighting against Israel, from Beirut, during the Second Lebanon War thirteen years ago, and specified that he reported to Tehran on a daily basis and was in constant contact with Khamenei.
Soleimani said he spent almost the entire duration of the 34-day conflict in Lebanon, which he entered from Syria alongside Imad Mughniyeh, a commander of the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah who was assassinated in 2008.
“Israeli spy planes were constantly flying overhead” in the Dahiyeh neighborhood of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, Soleimani said.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah “had a situation room” in the heart of the area, he said, and the Israelis were “watching every movement.”
Late one night, Soleimani said he and Mughniyeh — who was assassinated in an operation ascribed to Israel and the CIA — felt they needed to evacuate Nasrallah from the operations room.
He said they took Nasrallah to a second building, and shortly after they got there, two Israeli bombardments hit nearby.
“We were feeling that these two bombings were about to be followed by a third one … so we decided to get out of that building. We didn’t have a car, and there was complete silence, just the Israeli regime aircraft flying over Dahiyeh,” he recounted.
He said he and Nasrallah tried to hide from what he described as heat-tracking drones under a tree while they waited for Mughniyeh to find a car, but the car was also being tracked by a drone, so they used underground garages to switch cars and lose Israel’s tail.
According to his account, after ferrying Nasrallah to safety, he and Mughniyeh returned to the command center.
An analyst for Israel’s Channel 13 news said the interview seemed designed to send a message to the Muslim world that there would be no surrender to the West, the US and Israel. Soleimani, who is responsible for armed Iranian activities outside the country’s borders, also appeared to be attempting to place himself at the head” of the Iranian hierarchy alongside Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The broadcast of the interview, carried out by Khamenei’s office, comes days after it published a photo showing Nasrallah next to Khamenei and Soleimani, in an apparent recent meeting between the three in Tehran.
The IRGC’s commander Major General Hossein Salami said on Monday that destroying Israel was now an “achievable goal.” Four decades on from Iran’s Islamic revolution, “we have managed to obtain the capacity to destroy the impostor Zionist regime,” Salami was quoted saying by the IRGC’s Sepah news site.
Earlier Tuesday, Soleimani asserted that Iran had “defeated” the US military before the world, the Tasnim news agency reported.
The IRGC Quds Force chief may have been referring to Tehran’s downing of an American drone in June, an event for which US President Donald Trump approved a retaliatory strike, before calling it off at the last minute.
Soleimani, speaking at conference of IRGC commanders, also said the Guards had “paved the way” to defeat the nation’s enemies in the region.
Tensions have risen in the Persian Gulf since May last year when Trump unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran and began reimposing crippling sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure.” Iran has responded in recent months by reducing its own commitments under the deal and the US deployed military assets to the region.
Things escalated further after last month’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities that halved the kingdom’s oil output.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the strikes but the US says it has concluded the attacks involved cruise missiles from Iran and amounted to “an act of war.”
Saudi Arabia, which has been bogged down in a five-year war across its southern border in Yemen, has said Iran “unquestionably sponsored” the attacks.
Iran has denied responsibility for the September 14 drone and cruise missile attack.
Salami has said any country that attacks Iran will become the “main battlefield” in the ensuing conflict.
On Sunday the New Yorker reported that French President Emmanuel Macron was close to brokering a phone call between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines on the UN General assembly last week, but the effort fell apart because of the Iranian leader’s lack of trust in the US president.