Israelis Wonder If Iran Will Avenge Soleimani Killing By Attacking Israel

Jan 3, 2020
Originally published on January 3, 2020 8:31 pm
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Many Israelis are congratulating President Trump for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. Israeli officials say the Iranian commander was personally responsible for directing attacks against Israel across the Middle East. Now Israelis wonder if Iran will avenge Soleimani's killing by attacking Israel. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

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DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: "It's a good morning, huh?" says this conservative radio host on Israeli Army Radio. Israelis woke up this morning to the surprising news that a U.S. strike killed Qassem Soleimani. He's a household name in Israel.

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ESTRIN: The radio host says President Trump went the furthest any leader has ever gone against Iran since an Islamic state was formed there in 1979. He calls Soleimani the head of the Iranian octopus throughout the Middle East. For over two decades, Soleimani headed Iran's elite Quds Force. Quds means Jerusalem, which Iran has vowed to liberate from Israel. Israeli officials say he spearheaded Iranian support for proxies fighting Israel. Ram Ben Barak was formerly the deputy head of Israel's Mossad spy agency. He spoke on Israeli radio.

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RAM BEN BARAK: (Through interpreter) The fact he's no longer alive certainly makes this area safer for us.

ESTRIN: The former Israeli intelligence official says Soleimani was actively involved in activities Israel considers some of its biggest threats, like Iranian forces gaining a foothold in Syria, helping Hezbollah and Lebanon develop precision-guided missiles and equipping Palestinian militants in Gaza. Israel and Iran are foes, and for years, Israel has been pushing the U.S. to act more forcefully against Iran. But Israel also hopes not to take the blame for any military action against Iran.

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BARAK: (Through interpreter) It's good that it happened and good that we didn't do it. We need to be on alert and ready for any situation. It could take a month or two for the Iranians to respond. There is no doubt they will respond to this.

ESTRIN: Israel did go on alert today, closing a ski resort near the borders with Lebanon and Syria, which Israel has feared could be the target of an attack. Israeli embassies reportedly were on alert. About the only criticism of the attack among Israeli politicians came from a party of Palestinian Arab lawmakers in Israel's Parliament. They denounced the U.S. as fomenting war and endangering lives. It's unclear if Israel was told the attack was coming, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hours before the U.S. strike. Today, he praised Trump.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully, decisively.

ESTRIN: Former Israeli military intelligence head Amos Yadlin tweeted that he doesn't think Israel is at the top of Iran's list of targets for revenge. He thinks U.S. positions in Iraq are an easier target, as are the Saudis. And he says Israel has shown in the past it would respond forcefully to any Iranian attack.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

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