Too bad to check: Did Obama admin rat out Israeli attempt to bump off Quds Force leader?

Qassem Soleimani won’t slip through the Mossad’s fingers again if Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida is correct — if he ever did in the first place, which is questionable. According to its sources, a dispute between the US and Israel over the latter’s policy of aggressively targeting Iranian terror operations has been resolved. That means that the commander of the Quds Force will find himself targeted once again:

US intelligence agencies have given Israel the green light to assassinate the senior Iranian responsible for coordinating military activity on behalf of the Islamic Republic in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida.

For the past 20 years or so, Qassem Soleimani has commanded the Quds Force — the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards responsible for military and clandestine operations outside of the Islamic Republic. …

Three years ago, Israel came close to assassinating Soleimani near Damascus, al-Jarida quoted unnamed source as saying, but the Americans tipped off the Iranians against the background of intense disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.

That was during the Obama administration, which, according to reports at the time, was so focused on securing the 2015 Iran nuclear accord that it chose to overlook and even obstruct efforts to clamp down on Iranian-backed terror organizations.

Just how believable is this report? The first rule of Assassination Club is that you don’t talk about Assassination Club. The second rule of Assassination Club is … well, you get the point. The Times of Israel points out that al-Jarida isn’t exactly known for sober reporting, especially when it comes to Israel, although Ha’aretz gives them more credit.  Still, it’s tough to imagine that a Kuwaiti newspaper would scoop either Israeli or US papers on something this momentous. It’s also difficult to envision why anyone in a position to target Soleimani would talk about it, especially to a Kuwaiti newspaper.

This narrative seems to be attractive because of its underlying element — that the Obama administration intervened to protect Soleimani as part of its efforts to secure the nuclear deal with Iran’s mullahs. Perhaps that might be the case, but it’s tough to see what the US had to gain by protecting Soleimani from Israel, and what Israel would have had to gain by informing the US of that operation in the first place. This supposedly took place in 2014, but the Israelis knew full well by that time that the Obama administration had calculated its foreign policy towards bargaining with the mullahs. Israel would not have needed Obama’s approval for an operation targeting Soleimani any more than they would need Trump’s permission now — and given that Obama was clearly sympathetic in 2014 toward Iran, they wouldn’t have had much incentive to give Obama a heads-up on such an operation either.

Let’s look at it from the other direction. Why would a Kuwaiti newspaper make these claims if they weren’t well sourced? Soleimani has been a key part of Iran’s attempts to create a Shi’ite bridge across Sunni territory from Iran to the Mediterranean, with Syria being a major part of that strategy. That strategy threatens the other Sunni nations on the Arabian peninsula, including Kuwait. Soleimani is a self-promoter, as Michael Rubin wrote last October, which makes him both a public and convenient target. Leaders in Sunni nations would have plenty of reason to highlight Soleimani in hopes of painting a bulls-eye on his back.

It’s certainly possible that the Obama administration snitched on the Israelis to curry favor with the Iranians and blew their Soleimani operation. We’d need more corroboration than a single story coming from al-Jarida to buy it, though, and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Soleimani doesn’t seem too worried about showing his face in public but has to know that he’s a target, and not just of the Israelis and/or Americans, either.