For many months now, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, has tried settling the score with Israel over the hundreds of airstrikes it has conducted in recent years on Iranian facilities, military bases and weapons warehouses in Syria. In these Israeli attacks, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias have been killed.
These attempts, in May 2018 and in January of this year, largely consisted of rocket fire from Syria at the Israeli Golan Heights and didn’t achieve, from Soleimani’s perspective, the desired effect. And the appetite of the Iranian architect of terror in the Middle East has only intensified in recent weeks.
The reason: Israel, according to media reports, has expanded its campaign against Iran’s entrenchment efforts in Syria and has begun targeting Shi’ite militia bases in Iraq. We can assume that the four attacks attributed to Israel in Iraq since July, together with Sunday’s report about the targeted assassination, via airstrike, of senior members of an Iraqi militia on the Syria-Iraq border, deeply unsettled Soleimani.
Israel is successfully striking inside a country that shares a border with Iran, benefits from a blind eye being turned by the United States and Iraqi government, and is inflicting heavy casualties on the militias tasked with fighting American forces stationed in Iraq if tensions between Tehran and Washington boil over into open conflict.
So Soleimani came up with a new tactic: explosives-laden drones launched at civilian and military targets in Israel. He believed the odds of success would be better this time: quiet, under-the-radar preparations, drones that are easier to smuggle and hide in remote locations (including private homes), and only a small handful of operatives in on the secret, including at least two members of Hezbollah.
Had the plot come to fruition, Soleimani would have achieved two objectives: He would have gotten his revenge against Israel while restoring his “lost honor,” without risking a harsh and painful Israeli response because he would have limited the scope of the drone attack to specific targets only.
The revenge plan failed. But Soleimani won’t rest.
There are four basic assumptions in this campaign: First, the Iranians will continue trying to harm Israel. Second, Israel will have to continue operating in Syria and, according to foreign reports, in Iraq as well to foil Iran’s entrenchment efforts in the Middle East. Third, success isn’t always assured because quality intelligence—which this time, again, helped Israel pull the rug out from under Soleimani’s feet—isn’t always available. Fourth, it won’t always be easy for Israel to get the Americans and Russians to look the other way.
It was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah who rushed to Soleimani’s aid on Sunday. Playing dumb, Nasrallah claimed and even offered proof that only Hezbollah operatives, not members of the Quds Force, were in the house blown up by Israel south of Damascus.
Predictably, although Nasrallah and his Iranian masters completely ignored the thwarted drone attack, which was planned from the destroyed house, the Hezbollah leader was quick to create a new equation: From this point forward, every time Israel hits Hezbollah operatives in Syria or anywhere else, the terrorist organization will respond by targeting Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern border.
There’s no question that Israel will have to take this into account as it enters the next stages of its complex, Sisyphean effort to prevent Iran from establishing a presence in Syria.
As for Nasrallah’s other threat—to target and shoot down Israeli aircraft over Lebanon—Israel prepared for that a long time ago.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
Oded Granot is a journalist and international commentator on the Middle East.