In an interview published Thursday, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said a potential Israeli assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was “not impossible.”
In a profile piece for ultra-Orthodox newspaper Mishpacha, Cohen was asked about Soleimani’s claim that Israeli aircraft targeted him and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
“With all due respect to his bluster, he hasn’t necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets,” Cohen said.
“He knows very well that his assassination is not impossible. His actions are identified and felt everywhere… there’s no doubt the infrastructure he built presents a serious challenge for Israel.”
Iranian media also reported last week that Tehran stopped an “Israel-Arab” plot to eliminate Soleimani.
Cohen also commented that Nasrallah “knows we have the option of eliminating him” but did not answer when asked why Israel does not do so.
In a period of mounting tensions in the Persian Gulf and between Israel, the US and Iran, Cohen said “Israel is not interested in conflict with Iran… Israel has but one interest: to prevent any option of Iran achieving military nuclear capability. We don’t want the regime to collapse, we don’t want revenge against nuclear scientists or to bomb bases in Tehran. In the end Israel wants to bring Iran to the table and then bring about a deal that locks away any option of military nuclear capability.”
He said Iran was currently “absolutely not” an existential threat but “a security challenge” but that this would change if it acquired nuclear weapons.
He said every option was on the table to prevent such an eventuality including a military strike but that this was “a last choice.”
Cohen also commented on the killings of Hamas officials around the world in recent years in hits ascribed to Israel.
“There are more than a few assassinations,” he said cryptically. “But the enemy has changed tactics. It is not quick to attribute assassination to us, for its own reasons.”
However, he added, “If there is one target that we eliminate without hesitation, it is Hamas officials abroad. From local agents to those who manage acquisitions of weapons pointed towards Israel.” He said these were not vengeful acts but simply the removal of threats.
There have been reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views Cohen as a potential political successor. Cohen, who ends his term in 2020, said he had not yet decided whether to enter politics but said: “I definitely see myself in the leadership of Israel in the future.”
Cohen, 57, a former national security adviser under Netanyahu, became Mossad chief in 2016, succeeding Tamir Pardo. His term (as far as is publicly acknowledged) has focused on combating the Iranian nuclear program and cultivating ties with Arab states.
Israel has increasingly been targeting Iranian-allied forces in the region in recent years, as Tehran has sought to establish a military foothold in war-ravaged Syria.
Tensions have risen in the Persian Gulf since May last year when US President Donald 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 attacks last month 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.”
Iran has denied responsibility for the September 14 drone and cruise missile attack.