The assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 seemed like the height of U.S.-Israel cooperation, but it actually became a major point of tension between the allies.
Behind the scenes: Donald Trump expected Israel to play a more active role in the attack, and he griped that then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “willing to fight Iran to the last American soldier,” according to a former senior Trump administration official. Trump himself told me, “Israel did not do the right thing.”
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Trump made that remark in an interview last July for my book “Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East.”
“I can’t talk about this story. But I was very disappointed in Israel having to do with that event. … People will be hearing about that at the right time,” Trump said.
Between the lines: It’s unclear if Trump’s anger is entirely justified. A senior Israeli defense official told me that Israel proposed a more active role for Israeli forces but the U.S. insisted on being the ones to execute the strike.
Israel also provided the U.S. with key intelligence support, including tracking Soleimani’s cellphone, Yahoo News reported.
The former senior U.S. official said Trump’s anger wasn’t totally warranted, but that he put the episode into the same box he had put his feelings for NATO — of allies wanting the U.S. to do their fighting for them.
Warranted or not, the episode stuck with Trump during his last year in office.
Netanyahu tried to pull Trump aside to make amends when he visited the White House in September 2020 for the signing of the Abraham Accords, but Trump wasn’t convinced and continued to believe Netanyahu had used him, a former White House official told me.
Flashback: On the night of Jan. 3, 2020, Soleimani — the commander of Iran’s regional network of proxies and international intelligence and terror operations — arrived in Baghdad.
A few minutes after his car left the airport, it was struck by a missile fired by a U.S. drone. He was killed on the spot, along with the commander of an Iraqi militia.
The Trump administration’s contention that Soleimani had posed an “imminent threat” was intensely debated at the time. Trump claimed in our interview that the Iranian general was in Iraq to meet with militia commanders and plan attacks against U.S. targets.
“They were not meeting to discuss child care, OK? They had a lot of very bad intentions. And we knew that. So I felt very strongly that our country really had little choice,” Trump said.
Worth noting: A former senior Israeli official said other senior members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Pence, had expressed appreciation for the Israeli role in the Soleimani killing and its aftermath.
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