Israel shared three cell phone numbers used by Qasem Soleimani with U.S. intelligence in the hours before American drones unleashed Hellfire missiles on the Iranian general last year, Yahoo News reported Saturday.
The revelation sheds new light on the role that Israel played in the killing of Soleimani, who the State Department says was responsible for hundreds of U.S. troop deaths as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.
The drone strike occurred shortly after midnight on Jan. 2, 2020, as Soleimani and his entourage were leaving Baghdad’s international airport.
As three Delta Force sniper teams monitored Soleimani on the ground and three American drones kept a bird’s eye view of him, Israel shared intelligence with the U.S. military.
“In the six hours before Soleimani boarded his flight from Damascus, the Iranian general switched cellphones three times, according to a U.S. military official,” the Yahoo report said.
“In Tel Aviv, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command liaisons worked with their Israeli counterparts to help track Soleimani’s cellphone patterns. The Israelis, who had access to Soleimani’s numbers, passed them off to the Americans, who traced Soleimani and his current phone to Baghdad.”
Soon after Soleimani’s car left the airport in Baghdad, two Hellfire missiles rained down, killing him, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and five others.
Yahoo also reported Saturday that prior to Soleimani’s death, Israeli intelligence shared intelligence with the CIA about an Iranian who was leaving the country to pick up cell phones or Iranian leaders. U.S. intelligence was then able to plant bugged cell phones for the courier to buy, according to the report.
The killing of Soleimani was one of the most consequential actions the U.S. has taken in the Middle East in years. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tape leaked to the New York Times last month that Soleimani’s death caused more damage to the country than if the U.S. wiped out an entire city.
Meanwhile, President Biden has taken a different approach from Trump, offering to restart talks with Iran on restoring the nuclear deal that Trump pulled out of in 2018.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.