The Revolutionary Guards of Iran announced Thursday the arrest of three “terrorists” accused of plotting an attack against senior commander Qasem Soleimani on orders of Israeli and Arab secret services. The suspects “were sent abroad” and “large sums of money were spent to train them and prepare them” to carry out an attack against Soleimani, the Guards’ official website Sepahnews said.
The shadowy Soleimani heads the Guards’ elite Quds Force since 1998, which runs foreign operations, and is regarded as the mastermind of Iran’s military strategy in the region. He is an Iranian Major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Quds Force is a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
Sepahnews, citing the Guards’ intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, said the three were planning an attack against Soleimani during a Shiite religious ceremony in southern Iran. They had dug a tunnel underneath a Shiite holy site in the city of Kerman that belongs to Soleimani’s father and rigged it with “350 to 500 kilogrammes of explosives”, he said.
“The planned attack (orchestrated) by Arab-Israeli secret services had been decided a few years ago,” Taeb said. The suspects, whose identities were not revealed, had been under the radar of the Guards for a long time and were arrested as they plotted the attack, he added.
Soleimani has been the public face of Iran’s support for the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their battles with Islamic State group jihadists. In March, he received Iran’s highest military award, the Order of Zolfaghar (“zulfiqar” in Arabic).
Soleimani has been described as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today” and the principal military strategist and tactician in Iran’s effort to combat Western influence and promote the expansion of Shiite and Iranian influence throughout the Middle East.
Following the 9/11 attacks of 2001, Ryan Crocker, a senior State Department official in the US, flew to Geneva to meet with Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban, which had targeted Shi’ah Afghanis. This collaboration was instrumental in defining the targets of bombing operations in Afghanistan and in capturing key al Qaidah operatives but abruptly ended in January 2002, when George W Bush named Iran as part of the “Axis of evil” in his State of the Union address. In 2009, a leaked report stated that General Soleimani met Christopher R Hill and General Raymond T Odierno (America’s two most senior officials in Baghdad at the time) in the office of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani (who has known General Soleimani for decades). Hill and General Odierno denied the occurrence of the meeting.
Iran has extremely strained relations with the US now.
Thursday’s report comes two days after Soleimani gave a rare interview broadcast on Iranian state television during which he gave insight on his role in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.