Iran has foiled an "Israel-Arab plot" to assassinate senior Revolutionary Guards general Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, the Guards' intelligence chief said Thursday.
According to reports in Iranian media, Hossein Taeb, the head of the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards, told the annual meeting of the Guards' leadership that the plot has been in planning "for several years."
Taeb said that three unnamed people have been arrested in connection to the attempted assassination.
The “assassination squad prepared between 350 and 500 kilograms of explosive material” to use against Soleimani during the holy month of Muharram, which began this year in early September, possibly in the Iranian city of Kerman, Taeb added.
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He added the plot was planned in such a way that it would appear as part of an internal Iranian power struggle to “trigger a religious war inside Iran.”
“Hebrew-Arab security services,” having failed to target key Guards bases in the past, then decided to advance the plot to hit Soleimani near his home in southeastern Iran, Taeb said.
In recent months, a series of strikes in Iraq have been attributed to Israel, some of them near the Syria-Iraq border and the Albukamal-Qaim crossing. The attacks targeted Iran-backed Shi'ite militias and their convoys tasked with smuggling weapons into Syria.
In September, the Israeli army said Shi'ite units led by the Quds Force attempted to fire several rockets which failed to cross over to Israel. This came just two weeks after the Israeli army announced that Soleimani was behind plans to carry out a drone attack on Israel from Syria.
Taeb alluded to an August statement in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah should "calm down" and warned that "Israel knows how to defend itself and how to pay back its enemies."
"Be careful with your words and be even more careful with your actions,” Netanyahu also warned Soleimani.
Soleimani is one of the most prominent and influential military figures in Iran. He is involved in Iranian military activity in many countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasus states, and is considered one of the people closest to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
The Shi'ite militia was founded during the Iran-Iraq War as an elite unit. Its goal was to help the Kurds in their fight against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and, even more, to spread the principles of the Islamic revolution at a time when it wasn’t clear the army would remain loyal to the Iranian regime. Later, it began training forces outside Iran, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and carrying out attacks against regime opponents worldwide.
In January, Washington gave Israel the green light to assassinate Soleimani, according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.
Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that "there is an American-Israeli agreement" that Soleimani is a "threat to the two countries' interests in the region." It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.
The agreement between Israel and the United States, according to the report, came three years after Washington thwarted an Israeli attempt to kill the general.