Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday praised the United States and President Donald Trump for killing Iranian top commander Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in the early morning hours.
“Trump is worthy of full appreciation for acting with determination, strongly and swiftly,” he told reporters before departing Greece to head back to Israel. “We stand fully by the United States in its just battle for security, peace and self-defense.”
The prime minister said “Israel has the right to defend itself. The US has the same right exactly. Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of innocent US citizens and many others. He was planning further attacks.”
Netanyahu cut short his visit to Greece amid concerns Iran could exact revenge on the Jewish state for the US killing of the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. He had been visiting the country to sign a major deal for a gas pipeline.
Netanyahu’s chief political opponent, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, praised Trump for his “brave decision” which he said showed leadership.
“The killing of Soleimani is a message to all the head of global terror: on your own heads be it,” Gantz said. The assassination was “fitting for anyone whose action brings about the murder of innocents and the destabilization of the region and the world.”
Gantz added that on matters of national security “there is no coalition and opposition.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called a situation assessment with the heads of the defense establishment at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. There were no immediate details from the meeting.
Hebrew media reported that the Foreign Ministry decided to up security at Israeli embassies and missions around the world. And the body responsible for the Chabad Jewish outreach movement’s emissaries asked representatives all around the world to upgrade their security alertness for fear of Iranian revenge attacks.
“Maintain an increased awareness, report any suspicious activity or behavior to the nearest law enforcement officials,” the body said in a message, according to Channel 12.
An Israeli ski resort near the Syrian border that was the site of a previous missile attack was closed to visitors due to concerns of a possible strike. The Israel Defense Forces said it had ordered the Mount Hermon Ski resort in the Golan Heights shuttered for the day “in light of a situational assessment.”
Netanyahu had earlier instructed ministers not to give interviews on Soleimani’s assassination. But lawmakers from across the political spectrum praised the US strike.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said Soleimani was “responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians. He got exactly what he deserved.” Blue and White No. 3 Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, said: “The world in general, and the Middle East in particular, has been freed from a mass murderer… Good riddance!”
MK Keti Shitrit of Likud praised the “elimination of an arch-terrorist, the biggest terrorist in the Middle East… We have woken up to a new Middle East.”
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom told Army Radio: “There are more senior Iranian generals, but there is no Iranian general with greater influence.”
Amir Peretz, head of the center-left Labor-Gesher party, said Soleimani “deserved to die,” thanking the US and Trump for the move. But he also criticized the government for under-funding a plan to defend Israel from Iranian reprisals by building more bomb shelters and reinforcing public buildings, urging its implementation “before it’s too late.”
The moves were made hours after a US airstrike on a pair of cars at Baghdad’s airport killed the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, who was a major player in placing Iranian troops and pro-Iran proxies in Syria. Other senior members of a pro-Iran militia in Iraq were also killed.
Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for the US airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Soleimani, the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.
The killing marked a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
The United States urged its US citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.” The US State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and other protesters earlier this week, was closed and all consular services had been suspended.
Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq, where they mainly train Iraqi forces and help to combat Islamic State militants.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death, and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the elite Quds force.
Iran also summoned the Swiss charges d’affaires, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest the killing. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the strike “an act of state terrorism and violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
The killing, and any forceful retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering US troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Over the last two decades, Soleimani had assembled a network of heavily armed allies stretching all the way to southern Lebanon, on Israel’s doorstep.
However, the brazen killing itself may act as a deterrent, with fears of an all-out war leading Iran and its allies to delay or restrain any potential response.
The US Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the orchestrated violent protests at the US embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
The airport strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. A PMF official said the strike killed a total of eight people, including Soleimani’s son-in-law, whom he did not identify.
Trump was vacationing on his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, but sent out a tweet of an American flag.
The 62-year-old Soleimani was the target of Friday’s attack on an access road near the airport, which was conducted by an armed American drone, according to a US official.
A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Soleimani had disembarked from a plane arriving from either Syria or Lebanon. PMF officials said the bodies of Suleimani and al-Muhandis were torn to pieces. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The killing promised to strain relations with Iraq’s government, which is closely allied with both Washington and Tehran. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi condemned the strike as an “aggression against Iraq” and a “blatant attack on the nation’s dignity.”
He also called for an emergency session of parliament to take “necessary and appropriate measures to protect Iraq’s dignity, security and sovereignty” on Saturday, when funerals will be held in Baghdad for al-Muhandis, the militia commander, and the other slain Iraqis.
Russia condemned the killing, and fellow UN Security Council member China said it was “highly concerned.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged the “aggressive threat” posed by the Quds force but urged restraint, saying “further conflict is in none of our interests.”
Iraq has been gripped by massive anti-government protests since October, partly against Iran’s influence over the country. But at least one protester, who asked not to be named for security concerns, said they “do not celebrate” the killing of Soleimani.
“America and Iran should solve their problems outside Iraq,” he said. “We do not want them to solve it inside Iraq, because this will not serve our cause.”
Yoel Guzansky, an expert on Iran at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, a prestigious Tel Aviv think tank, said the killing restored America’s deterrence powers in the Middle East.
“I think the Iranians are shocked now, the Russians, the Chinese, no one would believe Trump would do that,” he said, adding that Iran, in the short run, was likely to retaliate against the US or its allies, and possibly against Israel. But he said in the long run, the loss of Soleimani — who had also been on Israel’s radar for some time — would weaken Iran’s capabilities across the region.