Just prior to the targeted killing of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the Trump administration in Baghdad on January 3, The Times of Israel Podcast spoke with Chuck Freilich, the former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council. Freilich recently released a Hebrew edition of his book, “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change,” originally published last year in English.
In a Times of Israel article on the potential fallout following the strike, Freilich called Soleimani one of “few truly irreplaceable” figures in Iran, saying that while his death may not “fundamentally affect Iranian expansionism,” the country “will have lost a grand strategist and possible future national leader.”
Despite sitting down before Soleimani’s killing, Freilich’s interview with Times of Israel military correspondent Judah Ari Gross feels all the more resonant as Iran, which is powerfully armed, remains one of Israel’s largest foes, and an existential threat.
The potential for escalation and catastrophe following last week’s strike is significant. Soleimani was in charge of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force – the branch responsible for planning and executing extra-territorial military activity. He held near celebrity status in Iran, was a personal friend of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and may have been in line to lead the country one day. A strong Iranian retaliation could target United States military stations in the Middle East, America’s Gulf allies, or even Israel itself.
Echoing comments made late last month by Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kochavi, the US-born Freilich said, “I don’t think most people in Israel, let alone the international community, understand the level of destruction that the Israeli homefront is going to experience in the next war with Hezbollah.”
Freilich was referring to the Lebanese militia funded by Iran and considered to be an Iranian proxy. Hezbollah is currently tangled up in the Syrian civil war, where it is fighting on behalf of close ally Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its fighters are battle-hardened, and it has upwards of 100,000 missiles capable of striking Israel. It can act on its own, or be deployed on instruction by Iran.
“For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there’s going to be an Arab actor, Hezbollah, which is going to be able to not only disrupt Israel’s mobilization processes by hitting mobilization centers and warehouses, but also to disrupt our offensive capabilities,” Freilich said.
“They can hit critical national infrastructure – power stations, water facilities, communications nodes. The State of Israel may be shut down for a lengthy period of time as a result of this. So we face a critical year at a time when our political leaders are involved in other matters,” he said.
But, Freilich, said, Hezbollah is not the worst of Israel’s problems. He rated a nuclear-armed Iran as one of Israel’s greatest threats. He also outlined what he called a “nightmare” scenario, in which multiple nuclear powers emerge in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This, he said, was entirely possible within the next 10 years.
We face a critical year at a time when our political leaders are involved in other matters
Freilich also said Israel is “reaching the tipping point” when it comes to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I don’t know if it happens in two years, or five years – it’s not 10 – at which point a two-state solution really is no longer feasible. We’re near it today… I think it would be a historic tragedy,” he said.
Listen on for Freilich’s complete comments in this captivating interview.