Archive for January 3, 2020

Iraq anti-government protesters sing, dance after Soleimani death 

January 3, 2020

Source: Iraq anti-government protesters sing, dance after Soleimani death | The Times of Israel

Pompeo shares video on Twitter of Iraqis celebrating Iranian Quds Force commander’s death, ‘thankful that General Soleimani is no more’

Iraqi anti-government protesters flash the V-sign of victory outside their protest tents in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square following news of the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards top commander Qasem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport on January 3, 2020 (AFP)

Iraqis who have demonstrated for months against a government they see as beholden to Iran broke into song and dance Friday after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander, an AFP photographer said.

“Oh Qasem Soleimani, this is a divine victory,” they cheered in Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir Square, the epicentre of their movement.

“This is God’s revenge for the blood of those killed,” one added, after nearly 460 people were killed in violence that many demonstrators have blamed on Iran-backed security forces.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted a video on Twitter Thursday night of Iraqis “dancing in the street” after the US killed the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani.

“Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo wrote, alongside footage of scores of people running along a road and waving what appeared to be Iraqi flags and other banners.

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

Embedded video

US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the Iran Revolutionary Guards commander, who died Friday “in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad,” the Pentagon said.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Department of Defense said in a statement.

“General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

Pompeo did not provide a source for the video or offer any details about where the images were filmed.

The strike at Baghdad’s international airport also killed the deputy chief of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. The Pentagon said Thursday that the US military has killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at the direction of President Donald Trump. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

A pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy following deadly American air strikes on a hardline Hashed faction.

The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that killed an American contractor working in Iraq.

The Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past months, including on December 27, the day the contractor was killed.

“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said.

 

Tens of thousands rally in Tehran against US ‘crimes’ after Soleimani killed

January 3, 2020

Source: Tens of thousands rally in Tehran against US ‘crimes’ after Soleimani killed | The Times of Israel

Demonstrators chant ‘Death to America,’ burn US and Israeli flags during processions for top general targeted in Baghdad strike, with many sobbing in the streets over his death

  • Protesters burn representations of Israeli flag during a demonstration over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
    Protesters burn representations of Israeli flag during a demonstration over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
  • Iranians burn a US flag during a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
    Iranians burn a US flag during a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
  • ranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran's Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
    Iranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
  • Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps take part in a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
    Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps take part in a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
  • Iranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran's Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
    Iranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
  • Iranians march with a banner bearing an illustration of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, against the killing of the top commander in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
    Iranians march with a banner bearing an illustration of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, against the killing of the top commander in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against American “crimes” after US strikes killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on Friday.

Chanting “Death to America” and holding up posters of the slain Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, the demonstrators filled streets for several blocks in central Tehran after Friday prayers.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm had been killed by US forces in an airstrike on Baghdad international airport.

Soleimani, who died aged 62, was one of Iran’s most popular public figures.

Women and men, many of them elderly, took part in the processions, some holding aloft portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The axis of any evil is America, the motto of religion and the Quran is death to America,” they said in unison.

“O leader of our revolution, condolences, condolences.”

One group of men tore holes out of a US flag before setting it on fire. Other’s burned an Israeli flag.

Protesters burn representations of Israeli flag during a demonstration over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 3, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“This was a good move, so that the whole world would realize who the terrorist is. The whole world found that out,” said Ali Bakhshi, an elderly cleric.

“The dear leader of the revolution respond to them [the US] very intelligently and precisely. And the nation of Iran will resist,” he told AFP.

Iranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Another group of men were seen standing on the sidelines of the proceedings, some sobbing uncontrollably.

‘Loved by the people’

Among the demonstrators was Mohsen Rezai, a former chief commander of the IRGC who currently heads the Expediency Council.

Dozens of somber-looking members of the IRGC dressed in olive-green fatigues also took part in the procession.

“I think America has taken a big risk and will get its response as well,” said an IRGC member who only gave his surname as Qasemi.

“I don’t think a war will break out. They are not brave enough to enter a direct conflict with us. I think we’ll give them a crushing response as it is,” he told AFP.

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps take part in a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

State news agency IRNA said there were similar demonstrations in the cities of Arak, Bojnourd, Hamedan, Hormozgan, Sanandaj, Semnan, Shiraz and Yazd.

Footage of rallies were also beamed on state television from other cities, including Tabriz, where some black-clad women had tears rolling down their faces.

News of the death of Soleimani also saw people hold impromptu gatherings in his central hometown of Kerman.

After serving in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Soleimani rose through the ranks of the IRGC to become commander of the Quds Force.

Iranians mourn during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 against the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

In recent years he became an unlikely celebrity in Iran and had a huge following on Instagram.

A student who only identified herself as Khansari said Soleimani was “loved by the people.”

“What America showed was the depth of its weaknesses and defeat in the region for it to murder the general of a country… who is so loved by the people.

“It must know that all the people of Iran are Qassem Soleimani… and this actually made the country unite again so that they can take revenge from the world arrogance,” she said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.

 

By killing Soleimani, the US takes a dramatic step with unknown consequences

January 3, 2020

Source: By killing Soleimani, the US takes a dramatic step with unknown consequences | The Times of Israel

Airstrike on Quds Force commander, a ‘truly irreplaceable’ figure who directed Iranian proxies throughout Mideast, strikes a serious blow to Tehran’s expansionism, experts say

The wreckage of an American airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3, 2020. (Social media)

The United States’ killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, one of the most important figures in the Islamic Republic, marks a major escalation in the ongoing standoff between Washington and Tehran, which the Islamic Republic will not likely suffer quietly.

As the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, Soleimani was directly responsible for much of Tehran’s activities throughout the region over the past two decades, establishing and building up Iranian proxies throughout the Middle East and allowing the Islamic Republic to project its power far beyond its borders, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“This is a step up in the conflict between the United States and Iran. This is certainly significant,” Orna Mizrahi, former Israeli deputy national security adviser for foreign policy, told The Times of Israel on Friday morning.

The Israel Defense Forces has accused Soleimani of personally directing attacks against the Jewish state from Syria, including a failed drone strike last year, and he is considered one of the major supporters of Hezbollah, helping the Lebanese terror group turn from a relatively minor player in the Middle East to one of the key political and military organizations in Lebanon, with weapons arsenals rivaling those of sovereign nations. Soleimani claimed to have personally assisted Hezbollah develop its tactical strategies for fighting Israel during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

While another commander will take Soleimani’s position as head of the Quds Force, his death strikes a serious blow to Iran and significantly raises the potential for conflict in the region, as Tehran and its allies may seek to avenge him. Indeed Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, following the airstrike on Soleimani’s convoy, quickly threatened “vigorous revenge… for the criminals” behind the attack.

The head of the Revolutionary Guard’s foreign wing, or Quds Force, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, center, attends a meeting of a group of the Guard members with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Iran, October 2, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Soleimani was “one of few truly irreplaceable” figures in Iran, who masterminded many of the country’s military endeavors abroad and who was seen as a potential future leader of the Islamic Republic, according to former Israeli deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich.

“His death will not fundamentally affect Iranian expansionism, but Iran will have lost a grand strategist and possible future national leader,” Freilich said.

Over the past year and a half, tensions between the United States and Iran have been rising, following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the resumption of heavy US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Tehran retaliated to these measure with violations of the accord and, since this summer, with direct violence against the US military and American allies — in addition to its ever-present support for Shiite militias throughout the Middle East.

However, save for its so-called maximum pressure campaign of financial sanctions, the US has largely refrained from retaliating against Iranian aggression in the region, drawing occasional criticism from Israeli officials, who ordinarily abstain from publicly disagreeing with the country’s most important ally America.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the number two of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, in a press conference during a visit to Basra, January 23, 2018. (HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI / AFP)

According to Mizrahi, the strike on Soleimani — which also killed the deputy commander of a powerful Iran-backed Iraqi militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — demonstrated that the United States is still capable and willing to act militarily against Iran.

Soleimani, a key enemy to not only the US and Israel but also Sunni nations throughout the Middle East, had been threatened with assassination by a variety of state actors over the years. Last year, Iran claimed to have thwarted an “Israeli-Arab” attempt on Soleimani’s life, arresting three people connected to the plot. The Quds Force commander also claimed to have survived an Israeli airstrike during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Soleimani’s survival over the years can be attributed to both a reluctance by his enemies to bear the burden of killing such an important Iranian figure as well as his own caution in his movements and activities as he traveled through the region, meeting with key allies.

Indeed the Quds Force commander reportedly used multiple decoys in leaving the Baghdad airport on Thursday night, having just arrived from Beirut. However, this safeguard was apparently for nought, as the US military was able to specifically strike the vehicles in which he and al-Muhandis were traveling, demonstrating an impressive level of intelligence.

“Now the Americans have shown that they know how to respond when they want to respond,” Mizrahi said. “This is a major achievement for the United States.”

According to Mizrahi, who served in a variety of senior intelligence positions in the IDF and Prime Minister’s Office, the United States would likely want this strike to serve as something of a knock-out punch, rather than an opening gambit into a wider war. Under both Trump and Obama, the US has been working to disengage from the Middle East, not get involved deeper into regional conflicts.

At this early stage, it is not clear how Iran’s retaliation will be carried out. Due in large part to Soleimani’s own efforts over the past 20 years, Tehran has many options and venues at its disposal for reprisals through its proxies in the Middle East — Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

While the United States claimed direct responsibility for the airstrike, Tehran or its proxies may seek their vengeance by striking US allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Speaking to Iranian state media, IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif explicitly threatened the State of Israel with retaliation.

“The fleeting happiness of the Americans and the Zionists will in no time turn into mourning,” Sharif said.

Though Iran has typically refrained from launching large-scale strikes directly from its territory for fear of direct retaliations against the country itself, preferring instead to conduct attacks from the countries in which its proxies operate — such a strike is by no means outside the realm of possibility.

In addition to any physical reprisals, Tehran could bring to bear its extensive offensive cyber capabilities against the United States and its allies.

The fleeting happiness of the Americans and the Zionists will in no time turn into mourning

Iran, which was already expected to announce a further violation of the JCPOA next week, may also decide to further step up its uranium enrichment as a response to Soleimani’s assassination.

However, nothing is inevitable or certain. Though Soleimani was undoubtedly a key figure in the region and the US killing him presents serious potential for a wider and deadlier conflict between the American and Iranian alliances, recent Middle East history contains several cases of hugely important officials being killed without earth-shattering retaliations.

In 2004, Israel killed Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin in an airstrike in Gaza. The following period saw a decrease in Palestinian terrorism and an eventual end to the Second Intifada. In 2008, senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed with a car bomb in Damascus in an operation attributed to the Mossad and the CIA. Despite bellicose threats of “open war” by Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the northern borders remained relatively calm.

While Israel and Iran’s other enemies in the region must prepare for potential Iranian retaliation, it is not yet clear what the full ramifications of Soleimani’s death will be in both the short and long therm.

“At this stage, we should be using more question marks than exclamation points,” said Mizrahi.

 

Nasrallah vows to avenge Soleimani, Hamas hails his support for ‘resistance’

January 3, 2020

Source: Nasrallah vows to avenge Soleimani, Hamas hails his support for ‘resistance’ | The Times of Israel

Hezbollah leader says group will continue on path set out by Iranian general; Damascus also blasts ‘cowardly US aggression’ in killing of top Iranian general

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah on Friday morning mourned Iran’s Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani as a “master of resistance” after he was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq.

“To continue on General Soleimani’s path, we’ll raise his flag in all battlefields,” the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar website quoted Nasrallah as saying.

“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” he said.

Soleimani had close ties with Hezbollah and was heavily involved in its operations. In a rare interview late last year, Soleimani claimed he and Nasrallah escaped an Israeli assassination attempt when Israeli aircraft targeted them in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Iran Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

The Hamas terror group offered its “sincere condolences” to Iran’s leadership and people following the killing of Soleimani in Baghdad overnight.

The organization that rules the Gaza Strip called Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ extraterritorial Quds Force, “one of the most prominent Iranian military leaders who had a major role in supporting the Palestinian resistance in different fields.”

Hamas terrorists march in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

It condemned the US’s “belligerent action and the ongoing American crimes in sowing and spreading discord in the region in service of the criminal Zionist enemy.”

It said Washington “bears full responsibility for the blood that is being spilled in the Arab region, especially since its hostile behavior is igniting conflicts without taking into consideration the interests, freedoms and stability of the peoples.”

In a separate statement the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, expressed its condolences and said Suleimani “focused much of his efforts and fight to working towards the demise of the Zionist entity and removing it from Palestine’s land.”

Hamas’s leader Yahya Sinwar had in the past lauded the “strong, powerful and warm” ties Hamas enjoys with Soleimani.

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a press conference for Quds (Jerusalem) day in Gaza City on 30 May 2019. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Syrian government also condemned the US killing and accused Washington of trying to fuel conflict in the Middle East.

Syria is “certain that this cowardly US aggression… will only strengthen determination to follow in the path of the resistance’s martyred leaders,” a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.

Leaders of Syrian opposition groups for their part hailed the death of a man they blame for thousands of deaths in the nearly nine-year-old civil war.

“The murder of Qasem Soleimani, the number one perpetrator of Revolutionary Guards’ crimes against the people of Syria and Iraq, is a blow that confirms that the world is able to stop Iran and protect Syrian civilians if it wants to,” Nasr Hariri, a senior political opposition leader, said.

Ahmed Ramadan, another senior opposition figure, also praised the US strike. “The killer of Syria’s children has been killed, the killer of Iraq’s free people has been killed,” he said in a post on social media.

Early Friday, a volley of missiles hit Baghdad’s international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran.

Just a few hours later, the Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Soleimani “was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning.”

The PMF confirmed both Soleimani and its deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in what it said was a “US strike that targeted their car on the Baghdad International Airport road.”

Soleimani has for years been seen as the architect of much of Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, including attempts to place a foothold in Syria and rocket attacks on Israel, making him one of Israel and the US’s most sought-after targets.

Soleimani had long stayed in the shadows while directing the Quds Force. But he rose to prominence by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in Syria on behalf of embattled dictator Bashar Assad.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

 

Super-confident Soleimani misjudged US will to kill him; heirs will seek revenge

January 3, 2020

Source: Super-confident Soleimani misjudged US will to kill him; heirs will seek revenge | The Times of Isral

The terror-orchestrating general was a protegé of Iran’s leader Khamenei, who will be determined to strike back against America

Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (left) with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (Wikipedia)

The targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani is not a particularly dramatic surprise in the surprise-prone Middle East. There was a reason Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called him the “living martyr.” He knew Soleimani was in perennial danger of being killed.

The powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force never stopped provoking Israel, and unlike other assassinated terror masterminds such as Hezbollah deputy commander Imad Mughniyeh, Osama Bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he never behaved like a wanted man.

He didn’t hide or live in a cave. On the contrary, he routinely traveled openly around the region, his face in full view, seen by the media. He wanted to be seen doing what he was doing, behaving how a commander should act.

He would show up to encourage, support and orchestrate the activities of his allies — whether they were the Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah forces in Syria or the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

He was full of confidence, to the point of euphoria and smugness. And he ended up paying the price.

The surprise, however, is that the killing was only carried out now, 21 years after Soleimani was appointed as the commander of the Quds Force and became one of the most dangerous and important people in the Middle East.

This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 3, 2020. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

There were definitely opportunities. At one point, US president George W. Bush refused to approve an operation aimed at eliminating Soleimani and Mughniyeh, his good friend, fearing the far-reaching consequences of harming such a senior Iranian commander. (Mughniyeh was killed in a joint Israel-US operation in Damascus in 2008.)

US president Barack Obama didn’t even try, instead leading a policy of warming ties with Iran. In effect, Obama allowed Soleimani and his colleagues in the Revolutionary Guards to run wild in the region, to set up Iranian proxies in countries like Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and to increase their influence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

An ‘export’ vacuum

Soleimani’s elimination leaves a huge vacuum in the Iranian military elite and regarding everything related to the policy of “exporting” the Islamic revolution which the regime has championed since 1979. Of course there are successors — his deputy Esmail Ghaani has already been named to replace him —  but the question is whether they will be as charismatic, authoritative and visionary as he was.

Esmail Ghaani, the deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force named as the force’s commander on January 3, 2020 after the previous chief Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike, in a photo taken on 19 May 2019. (Erfan Kouchari/Wikipedia CC-BY-4.0)

It is hard to imagine Ghaani or others will prove to have so wild a vision as Soleimani, who pursued the avowed goal of turning Iran into an empire stretching to the Mediterranean Sea, with branches in the Gulf region and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait.

And it is hard to believe they will match his audacity to initiate, for instance, drone and rocket strikes on the Saudi oil industry, acting on the assessment that the Americans and the Saudis wouldn’t dare to retaliate.

He was right about that, but fatally wrong about what the Trump administration might ultimately do to thwart him.

Soleimani’s problem was that he bit off more than he could chew. Even after the attacks on Saudi Arabia, he didn’t stop. He constantly tried to expand weapons smuggling to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and to deploy pro-Iran militias in Syria and Iraq. And he played a big part in the decisions by Hezbollah and Iraq to crack down in recent weeks on the popular protests, fearing Iran’s status could be harmed.

There is a reason protesters were seen dancing joyfully in the streets of Baghdad following the assassination. Soleimani had personally encouraged Iraqi forces to repress the demonstrations there with massive force.

Khamenei’s protegé

However, there is no reason for celebration at this time in the streets of Jerusalem or Washington. It should be remembered that when Israel killed Hezbollah chief Abbas al-Musawi in 1992, his successor was a relatively unknown, 33-year-old upstart called Hassan Nasrallah.

In order to create deterrence against further such blows, Iran will have to find a way to retaliate — to show the Americans that it is not afraid of a confrontation and that such an operation cannot be left unanswered.

Iraqi anti-government protesters flash the V-sign of victory outside their protest tents in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square following news of the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards top commander Qasem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport on January 3, 2020 (AFP)

And besides everything else, there is also the personal aspect. Soleimani, who was 63, was considered a protegé of Khamenei. He was born to a poor family, idolized Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini even before the Islamic revolution, and joined the Revolutionary Guards in the year it was established.

For the regime, he was — and is — a symbol rather than just a senior commander. He implemented the policies pushed by Khamenei, who never sought to hide his admiration for him, and that connection will likely increase the motivation for Khamenei and the regime to exact revenge on the US.

Judging by the initial Lebanese reactions, it doesn’t seem Hezbollah intends to attack Israel over the assassination. The terror group may understand that this is a war it shouldn’t rush to join. However, a terror attack against an American target is definitely on the table.

Soleimani, along with Mughniyeh at the time, were both considered top experts in that field. And Soleimani’s heirs will likely be handed a clear objective: take revenge on the United States for his death, and fast.

 

Israeli embassies, IDF raise alert levels as Iran threatens to avenge Soleimani 

January 3, 2020

Source: Israeli embassies, IDF raise alert levels as Iran threatens to avenge Soleimani | The Times of Israel

Mt. Hermon ski resort in Golan Heights closed to public, but military source says no new troop deployments; expert on Iran proxies warns Hezbollah could attack Israel from Syria

Israeli troops are pictured in the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, January 3, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Israeli troops are pictured in the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, January 3, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Defense Ministry has put Israeli embassies and offices on “high alert” worldwide in the wake of the US killing in Iraq of Qassem Soleimani and amid Iranian threats of revenge against the US and Israel, Israeli television reported Friday.

Security has also been bolstered at Israeli missions deemed to be in locations regarded as “sensitive,” according to Channel 13 news.

The Israeli army has also raised its alert levels. The Mount Hermon ski site near the Israel-Syria border is being kept closed, but no special instructions have been issued to northern Israeli residents.

Fighters of the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah, Israel’s bitter foe with which it fought a devastating war in 2006, are deployed on the other side of the border.

Hezbollah has more than 100,000 Iranian-supplied rockets aimed at Israel, while the Iran-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza have thousands more.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese border town of Kfar Kila shows an Israeli military vehicle in Metulah on the Israeli side on January 3, 2020. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Although an Israeli military source said there were no new troop deployments, tanks and soldiers sealed off access to the Hermon site, while an AFP correspondent also spotted a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system. However, it was not clear if this was new deployment.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett earlier Friday convened a meeting in Tel Aviv of security and intelligence chiefs to deal with the possible repercussions of the Soleimani killing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off an official visit to Greece and flew home, expressing support for the overnight US strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad.

A battery of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is pictured in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020.(Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The heightened state of alert came after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s killing, the biggest escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed revenge against the United States and Israel.

“We remind enemies of the Islamic Ummah, especially [the] terrorist government of America and the fake Zionist regime, that General Soleimani was not one individual but a never-ending school and belief,” the IRGC said in a statement quoted by the Mehr news agency.

It also threatened the US strike would “open a new chapter in the path of anti-Zionism resistance and fighting occupying American terrorists in the region.”

This was echoed by the leader of Hezbollah.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said.

Soleimani, head of the Quds Force in Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, had long also been in Israel’s sights for his alleged links to attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.

Among them were the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and an attack on an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012.

‘Hezbollah could act from Syria’

Yossi Mansharof, an expert on Iran and Shiite militias at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said Hezbollah was unlikely to seek a showdown in Lebanon given the country’s current economic and political crisis.

Hezbollah’s forces in Syria, however, could make a move, he said.

“Hezbollah can act against Israel from the Syrian side,” he told AFP. “They would not dare to drag Lebanon into a military escalation.”

In addition to Hezbollah forces in Syria, the Quds Force and “many, many militias which Soleimani has fostered” are also stationed in the war-torn country, he pointed out.

He said Hezbollah had a worldwide network of operatives, and an attack on American officials, high-ranking military officers or other interests was also possible.

The powerful terror organization has boasted in the past that it “can target New York and Washington,” Mansharof said.

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

In the Gaza Strip, the Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, condemned Soleimani’s killing but did not make any overt threat.

“Hamas sends its condolences to the Iranian leadership and people,” it said in a statement. “Hamas condemns this American crime which raises tension in the region.”

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group said the Baghdad strike called for “a coordinated, comprehensive and continuous response from resistance forces” against “American and Zionist interests.”

 

Iran Guards threaten US, ‘fake Zionist regime’ over Soleimani killing

January 3, 2020

Source: Iran Guards threaten US, ‘fake Zionist regime’ over Soleimani killing | The Times of Israel

(  I almost hoe they;ll try so that we can finally put an end to their evil nonsense, and I can stop working on this blog after 10 long years. – JW )

Elite military force says US strike in Baghdad on top commander will ‘open a new chapter in the path of anti-Zionism resistance’; top security body says it has decided on revenge

In this photo from September 22, 2018, members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in the capital Tehran. (Stringer/AFP)

In this photo from September 22, 2018, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran. (Stringer/AFP)

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed revenge against the United States and Israel on Friday after Qassem Soleimani, one of its top commanders, was killed by an American strike in Baghdad.

“We remind enemies of the Islamic Ummah, especially [the] terrorist government of America and the fake Zionist regime, that General Soleimani was not one individual but a never-ending school and belief,” the IRGC said in a statement quoted by the Mehr news agency.

It also threatened the US strike would “open a new chapter in the path of anti-Zionism resistance and fighting occupying American terrorists in the region.”

A spokesman for the IRGC also warned US “joy” over Soleimani’s death would turn into mourning.

“Our determination to take revenge against the US and Zionism will be strengthened,” Gen. Ramezan Sharif said, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group hold a picture of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad, during a mourning prayer in a mosque in Lebanon’s southern town of Ghazieh on January 3, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Soleimani headed the Quds Force, which is responsible for the IRGC’s operations overseas.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said it had reached a decision on how to respond,  but wasn’t saying what the decision is.

The council’s brief statement after a special session Friday says it investigated “the different aspects of this incident and it is announcing that the United States of America is responsible for all consequences of this criminal adventure.”

“America should know that its criminal attack on General Soleimani has been the country’s biggest mistake in west Asia, and America will not avoid the consequences of this wrong calculation easily,” the Supreme National Security Council said in a statement.

“These criminals will face severe vengeance… in the right place and time,” it added

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council formulates the country’s military and nuclear program strategy. However, any matter of state is finally decided by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Lebanon and Gaza

His death was mourned by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, terror groups opposed to Israel and which were heavily supported by Iran.

Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, while Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza have thousands more.

Iran’s state television reported 10 people were killed in the US airstrike Friday morning and five of them were members of the Revolutionary Guard.

In addition to Soleimani, the report named another general, a colonel, a major and a captain with the guard.

This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 3, 2020. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

The IRGC said five members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force with close ties to Iran, were also killed, including its deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

The US said the airstrike was carried out to disrupt an “imminent” attack orchestrated by Soleimani.

Following Soleimani’s killing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Greece and returned to Israel amid concerns Iran could exact revenge on the Jewish state for the US strike on the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. He had been visiting the country to sign a major deal for a gas pipeline.

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 that meeting.

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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 attack. 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.”

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.

Netanyahu had earlier instructed ministers not to give interviews on Soleimani’s assassination. But lawmakers from across the political spectrum praised the US strike, including the prime minister.

In Friday, March 27, 2015 file this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, right, sits next to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while attending a religious ceremony in a mosque at his residence in Tehran, Iran (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, File)

Earlier, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and vowed his country would “take revenge.”

The targeted strike, and any retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering U.S. 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.

The Defense Department said it killed the 62-year-old 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.