Israel shared with the United States three cellphone numbers of Iranian al-Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani in the hours before he was killed last January in a US drone strike in Baghdad, according to Yahoo News.
The Saturday report, citing US military and intelligence officials, said Israel provided information to the US military as the hit operation was already underway, with American forces keeping an eye on Soleimani from the ground and skies and liaisons from US Joint Special Operations Command in Tel Aviv working with the Israelis on tracing the Iranian commander’s phones.
During the six hours before the attack Soleimani changed his cellphone three times, officials told Yahoo.
The numbers handed over by Israel enabled US signals intelligence experts in Baghdad to track down a phone being used by Soleimani when he arrived by plane at Baghdad International Airport shortly after midnight on January 3.
Israel had previously provided other information for the US as it homed in on Soleimani, according to the report, telling the CIA about a courier who would obtain cellphones from outside Iran on behalf of the general and his close associates.
The CIA was able to ensure that innocent-looking phones, installed with spyware, were placed where the courier was likely to buy them in an unnamed Gulf state. At least one bugged phone was purchased, which was then used by a person who was frequently in the same room as Soleimani. However, Soleimani and others in the Iranian leadership often switch the phones, the report said, giving the ploy only temporary success.
The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a Yahoo request from comment.
According to the report, on the night of the attack, three teams of Delta force snipers were watching Soleimani’s every move as he left the aircraft.
Three US drones were circling overhead and members of an elite Kurdish unit, the Counter Terrorism Group, were on the ground providing assistance and surveillance information. So close were the CTG operators that one of them even helped guide the plane to a halt, posing as ground crew while others pretended to be baggage handlers. They were able to positively identify Soleimani before he got into a vehicle and drove off in a two-car convoy.
Shortly after the convoy left the airport, the drone fired two Hellfire missiles at Soleimani’s car, and a third at the other vehicle. Both cars were completely destroyed, killing those inside including the deputy chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
After the attack, a Kurdish CTG operative, disguised as an Iraqi policeman, approached the wreckage, took some photos, and obtained a DNA tissue sample, before slipping away.
Iran responded to the slaying by launching ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq that caused traumatic brain injuries to over 100 US soldiers, but no deaths.
The Yahoo report came as Tehran is engaged in talks with world powers aimed at bringing the US and Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, has been on life support since former US president Trump, who ordered Soleimani’s killing, withdrew in 2018.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.