Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to distance himself from the U.S.-led airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, telling Security Cabinet ministers on Monday that Israel should “stay out of it.”
“The killing of Soleimani is a U.S. event, not an Israeli event, and we should stay out of it,” Netanyahu said, according to reports by Axios that cited two ministers who attended the meeting.
The prime minister gave further instructions for Cabinet officials not to engage the press in commentary about the attack — which has ramped up the tensions between the U.S. and the Middle East and escalated the likelihood of a retaliatory attack — in order to ensure that Israel’s longtime rivals do not get the impression that it was involved in Thursday’s deadly drone strike.
The director of Mossad, a branch of the Israeli Intelligence Community, told ministers they were not expecting any attacks from Iran because “Israel stayed in a distance from the incident,” adding that the leaders should expect Iran efforts towards retaliation to become more apparent on Tuesday after the national three-day period of mourning for Soleimani is over.
A former chief of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said Sunday the Israeli city of Haifa and Israeli military centers would be included in Tehran’s retaliation for Soleimani’s death, according to Reuters.
“Iran’s revenge against America for the assassination of Soleimani will be severe. … Haifa and Israeli military centers will be included in the retaliation,” Mohsen Rezaei said in a televised speech to mourners in Tehran.
Following the attack, where the U.S. launched three rockets at Baghdad International Airport, killing the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, and five other people, Netanyahu issued a statement with brief congratulatory remarks to President Trump, a longstanding ally in the region.
“Qassem Soleimani brought about the death of many American citizens and many other innocents in recent decades and at present. Soleimani initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu said. “President Trump is deserving of all esteem for taking determined, strong and quick action. I would like to reiterate — Israel fully stands alongside the U.S. in the just struggle for security, peace and self-defense.”
Netanyahu reiterated to Cabinet ministers Monday that although Israel did not take part in the attack, they support the U.S.’ right to defend itself.