Israel helped the United States in the operation that resulted in the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a US report said over the weekend.
According to an NBC News report late Friday, the Jewish state was involved in the January 3 operation, handing the Americans key intelligence details.
The information helped confirm intelligence provided by informants at a Syrian airport that Soleimani had been on a nighttime flight from Damascus to Baghdad, the report said, quoting two sources with direct knowledge of the operation and other US officials briefed on it.
After his plane landed, it was a simple matter of using drones to track him exiting the aircraft and entering a car, which was later targeted with four missiles.
Israeli media reported the day after the strike that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of time about the US plans to kill Soleimani.
Pompeo phoned Netanyahu on January 1, ostensibly to thank him for Israel’s support in efforts to combat Iran and after the attack on the US embassy in Iraq.
Before departing for Athens the following morning, Netanyahu alluded to “very, very dramatic things” happening in the region.
“We know that our region is stormy; very, very dramatic things are happening in it. We are alert and are monitoring the situation. We are in continuous contact with our great friend the US, including my conversation yesterday afternoon,” he told reporters at Ben Gurion International Airport.
Hours later, Soleimani and several top officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in the airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport, along with an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia commander.
Netanyahu had been the only non-US leader who appeared in the know about the planned operation beforehand, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The Reuters news agency reported Thursday that a series of Syrian and Iraqi informants are suspected of providing the US with the information that led to Soleimani’s killing.
The suspected informants — two security employees at Baghdad airport and two workers in private Syrian airline Cham Wings — gave the intelligence about Soleimani’s secret flight from Damascus to Baghdad, the report said, quoting security officials, Baghdad airport employees and Cham Wings employees.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen significantly since the US carried out the airstrike that killed Soleimani. In the wake of the killing, the Iraqi parliament voted to press the government to expel US troops from the country and Iran announced that it will no longer abide by any of the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal.
Last week, a former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said that the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa could be targeted to avenge Soleimani after previously alleging that Israel leaked information about Soleimani’s whereabouts to US forces.
The US launched the airstrike that killed the Iranian general after a US defense contractor was killed and several American and Iraqi troops were wounded in a rocket attack in northern Iraq which was in turn launched in retaliation for US airstrike which killed Iranian-backed militants at several sites in Syria and Iraq. Supporters of the militant group subsequently broke into the US embassy in Baghdad.