DUBAI, Oct 3, (Agencies): A senior Iranian official said on Thursday that Tehran had foiled a plot by Israeli and Arab agencies to assassinate Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force.
State media quoted Hossein Taeb, the Revolutionary Guards security chief, as telling a conference that the plotters had planned to buy a property adjacent to the grave of Soleimani’s father and rig it with explosives to kill the commander.
Soleimani leads the foreign arm of the Guards and has had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq. Taeb said an unspecified number of people had been arrested in the plot, which he said had been “years in planning”.
Taeb did not name the Arab countries allegedly involved in the plot. It was not possible to independently verify the events described by Iranian media. Soleimani’s Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran’s borders, has shored up support for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.
Its successes have made Soleimani instrumental in the steady spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the United States and Tehran’s foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check. There have been repeated air attacks on Quds bases in Syria and in August Israel accused the force of planning “killer drone attacks” and said its air strike showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere. Foreign Minister Israel Katz said at the time that Israel was working to “uproot” Soleimani, according to Israeli media. Satellite images released on Thursday show that a once-detained Iranian-flagged oil tanker sitting off the coast of Syria has been approached by a smaller Iranian tanker, an indication the ship could be preparing to transfer its cargo.
Images released by Maxar Technologies show the Jasmine alongside the Adrian Darya 1 on Wednesday, with mooring lines between them and a crane deployed on the larger vessel.
The Adrian Darya 1, formerly named the Grace 1, was detained off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar in July while carrying $130 million in crude oil, on suspicion of breaking European Union sanctions by taking the oil to Syria. Gibraltar later released the tanker, after it said Iran promised the ship wouldn’t go to Syria. The ship later sailed toward the Syrian coast, angering Britain.
The oil shipment website TankerTrackers.com said on Twitter on Tuesday that the Adrian Darya 1 was “postured in an STS (Ship-to-Ship) formation with a smaller Iranian-flagged Handymax (350K barrel capacity) tanker,” the Jasmine. It noted this was “not a confirmation of any oil transfer just yet. We’ll compare imagery later.” The image it posted showed the two vessels off the coast of Syria.
However, the website said on Wednesday it was ending its public coverage of the Iranian tanker’s movements due to a tweet by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who used the image of the two tankers in a tweet of his own. Pompeo tweeted that despite Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad “Zarif’s promise to the UK that the #AdrianDarya1 would not deliver oil to Syria, it is now transferring oil off the Syrian coast. Will the world hold Iran accountable if this oil is delivered to Syria?”