Israel views the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani as restoring US deterrence in the Middle East in one fell swoop — deterrence that had eroded over the past two years to the point that it was almost nonexistent. Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), even took the liberty of voicing veiled criticism in a Dec. 25 speech, saying Israel was acting alone against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “Tonight, they suddenly made a comeback,” a senior Israeli source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told “The Americans are signaling that they are still around and no one should mess with them. This is excellent news.”
An indescribable sense of satisfaction and elation filled the halls of power in Israel after news emerged of the assassination. In the morning hours of Jan. 3, senior political and defense figures had to bite down hard and practice tremendous restraint to avoid flooding the web with triumphant announcements and messages of congratulation to President Donald Trump. Why? Because Israel knows full well the extent to which this historic and strategic event has brought the entire region closer to war. IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi had already warned of such a scenario in his speech last week.
Israel urgently needs to distance itself from the resounding assassination, which could change the face of the Middle East. As these lines are being written, many in Israel’s defense and security agencies are praying that their commanders in the political arena will curb their inclination to join in the American celebrations. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the first weeks following the 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility at Der ez-Zor. Then, too, Israel maintained total silence to provide Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with “ultimate deniability” and the ideal conditions to practice restraint.
For the past 20 years, and perhaps in all of modern history, Gen. Soleimani was Israel’s most bitter enemy. He was perceived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — the prime minister’s office and Defense Ministry — not only as the operations officer of Iran’s global terror network and the brain behind the idea of the Shiite axis from Tehran to Tartus, he was also the great ideologue of the Islamic revolution, the heart of the resistance and the one who pushed the Revolutionary Guard with all his might toward the Israeli border, Damascus and Beirut.