Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly warned his cabinet not to get too involved in the US murder of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, lest Tel Aviv gets dragged into the escalating conflict between Washington and Tehran.
“The assassination of Soleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it,” Netanyahu reportedly told his security cabinet during a meeting on Monday, as cited by Israel’s Channel 13. He advised ministers to avoid speaking to the media about Thursday’s targeted assassination beyond supporting the US’ right to defend itself, so as not to give the impression that Israel had played any role in it.
The directors of Mossad and military intelligence reassured the ministers that the likelihood of a retaliatory attack is low, since “Israel stayed at a distance from the incident,” and that Iran will begin planning its reciprocal move on Tuesday following the conclusion of the national mourning period for Soleimani, according to the same sources.
Netanyahu’s sudden reticence is particularly notable because he has been advocating a US-Iran conflict for much of his political career. For over 20 years, he has insisted that the Islamic Republic was just steps away from producing nuclear weapons, even when Israeli intelligence publicly argued otherwise.
The Israeli PM was also front and center in the run-up to the most recent Iraq War, warning the US Congress in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” – including pursuing atomic bombs – which turned out not to exist at all.
Just last year, Netanyahu was urging the US and its Middle Eastern allies to take up the cause of war against Iran, emboldened by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose crippling sanctions against Tehran, despite its compliance with the agreement.
However, the overt US killing of a military commander who was apparently very popular in Iran has provoked serious talk of retribution, not just in Tehran, but among Hezbollah – the Lebanese Shia militia that boasts of fighting Israel to a draw in 2006 – as well.
Netanyahu has had a tough 2019, clinging onto the post of PM in a purely technical mandate after two elections mere months apart delivered a hung Knesset and required an unprecedented third, coming this spring. Talking a tough game against Iran in order to get Israeli votes is one thing, but facing the real possibility of being the target of Iranian missiles is apparently quite another.