An Israeli air raid 13 years ago almost killed both the leader of Hezbollah and the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, it was revealed this week.
In an interview with Major General Qassem Soleimani, who heads the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, he described how he and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah barely escaped an Israeli air raid during the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006.
Both men have been prime Israeli targets for two decades, especially Soleimani, who has been engineering Iranian support to proxies around the Middle East, and overseeing Iran’s military presence in Syria. He has never before given an interview.
During the unprecedented 90-minute discussion, broadcast on Iranian TV on Tuesday, he explained his role in Lebanon advising Hezbollah during the 34-day war with Israel. He said he was invited by the militia’s then military leader Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008.
Soleimani recalled how Hezbollah was able to “attack a vehicle of the Zionists, inside the occupied lands and captured two wounded persons from inside the vehicle as hostages” in July 2006, triggering the conflict.
A week after arriving in Lebanon, he went back to Iran to brief Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, before returning the same day with a message for Nasrallah, who he met as Israeli planes were bombing Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold.
“Israeli spy planes were constantly flying overhead,” he said, recalling how Hezbollah had a situations room that the Israelis were “watching every movement”.
One night, Soleimani said he and Mughniyeh felt they needed to evacuate Nasrallah from the room. They took him to a second building, and shortly after they got there, two Israeli bombardments hit nearby.
“We were feeling that these two bombings were about to be followed by a third one so we decided to get out of that building. We didn’t have a car, and there was complete silence, just the Israeli regime aircraft flying over Dahiyeh,” he said.
He and Nasrallah hid from heat-tracking drones under a tree while they waited for Mughniyeh to find a car, but the car was also being tracked by a drone, so they used underground garages to switch cars and lose Israel’s tail.
Analysts said the interview seemed designed to boost Soleimani’s internal status in Iran, suggesting a possible future move into politics for the commander.