US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is believed to have briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of time about US plans to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was assassinated early Friday morning, Channel 12 and 13 reported Friday.
Pompeo called Netanyahu late Wednesday night ostensibly to thank him for Israel’s support in efforts to combat Iran and after the attack on the US embassy in Iraq.
Tweeting Thursday morning, Netanyahu alluded to “very, very dramatic things” happening in our region.
“I want to make one thing clear: We fully support all of the steps that the US has taken as well as its full right to defend itself and its citizens,” Netanyahu wrote.
“Moreover, 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,” the Israeli leader said at the time.
Moreover, 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.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 2, 2020
Several hours later, Soleimani and several top IRCG officials were killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport.
“Secretary Pompeo thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu for Israel’s unwavering commitment to countering Iran’s malign regional influence and its condemnation of the December 31 attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad,” the State Department said in a statement after the call.
“The Secretary and Prime Minister reaffirmed the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel,” the statement said.
Pompeo also spoke with senior officials in Qatar.
It was not clear if other US allies were warned.
After the news of the strike, Netanyahu on Friday praised the United States and President Donald Trump for killing Soleimani.
“Trump is worthy of full appreciation for acting with determination, strongly and swiftly,” he told reporters before departing Greece to return 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 overnight strike. He had been visiting the country to sign a major deal for a gas pipeline.
Israel has reportedly raised its security alert at legations worldwide, and the IDF has heightened its alert, amid Iranian revenge threats.
The White House did not inform lawmakers before the strike. It was expected to give classified briefings to members of Congress and staff in the afternoon. Defense Secretary Mark Esper notified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the strike shortly before the Pentagon confirmed it publicly.
Pompeo called world leaders Friday to explain and defend Trump’s decision to order the airstrike that has sparked fears of an explosion of anti-American protests as well as more violence in the already unstable Middle East.
The State Department said Pompeo had spoken Friday with top officials in Afghanistan, Britain, China, France, Germany and Pakistan.
In his calls with the British and German foreign ministers as well as China’s state councilor, Pompeo stressed that Trump acted to counter an imminent threat to U.S. lives in the region but also that the U.S. is committed to “de-escalation” of tensions, according to the department’s summaries of the conversations.
In the US, the attack drew criticism from Democrats who said Trump had failed to inform Congress.
Pelosi said the administration conducted the airstrike without consultation of Congress or an authorization for use of military force against Iran. She said it “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
The strike conducted in Baghdad against Soleimani “went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel similarly said in a statement.
The White House traditionally notifies senior members of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives ahead of major military action.
The War Powers Resolution requires the US president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action.
But several Democrats have warned that Congress’s constitutional role in making decisions about war have been eroded in the first three years of the Trump administration.
“Even if this strike was in self-defense, no current congressional authorization covered it and the President needs to notify Congress within 48 hours pursuant to the War Powers Resolution,” Engel said.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer “was not given advanced notice” of the strike, a senior Democratic aide told AFP.
It appears, however, that several Republicans were informed.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News he was informed by Trump while he visited him in Florida on Monday. The two played golf together.
“I appreciate being brought into the orbit,” Graham said. “I really appreciate President Trump letting the world know you cannot kill an american without impunity.”
Other Republicans on Capitol Hill stood behind Trump, without stating publicly whether officials informed them ahead of the attack.
Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: “America does not and should not seek war, but it will respond in kind to those who threaten our citizens, soldiers and friends — as the President has long promised. De-escalation is preferable and possible — but only if our adversaries choose it.”
White House candidate and former vice president Joe Biden said Trump had “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox” with his order.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a statement saying, “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”
Democrats acknowledged the threat posed by Soleimani, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling him “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.”
However, she added, Trump’s “reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted: “War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.”
Soleimani was “the mastermind of immense violence” who has “the blood of Americans on his hands,” the Democratic lawmaker acknowledged. But “to push ahead with an action of this gravity without involving Congress raises serious legal problems and is an affront to Congress’s powers as a coequal branch of government.”