Qassem Soleimani (left), head of the IRGC Quds Force
Qassem Soleimani (left), head of the IRGC Quds Force Reuters

Yoni Ben Menachem, senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, spoke to Arutz Sheva on Sunday about the exchange of threats between the US and Iran following the elimination of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.

In the interview, Ben Menachem expressed concerned over a possible scenario in which Israel would be pulled into the conflict between the two countries.

"Israel is in the picture, because Iran will not miss an opportunity to push us into this story. This weekend, for the first time, senior members of the Revolutionary Guards threatened to attack Tel Aviv and it was quietly ignored in the media, but it is a very serious threat," he said.

"Even though the intelligence assessment in Israel is that the likelihood that Tel Aviv will be attacked by the Iranians is low, there is a question of what will happen if the Iranians’ backs are pushed against the wall because of a strong US military response. In this case, they are likely to try to involve Israel, as Saddam Hussein did in the Gulf War [in 1991] when he fired missiles towards Israel. We should be prepared for this," Ben Menachem continued.

"Iranians have both the intelligence and operational capability to launch missiles and rockets at Israel from Iran, Syria and Iraq and, of course, the Gaza Strip must not be forgotten. The situation there is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are Iran's proxies, are sitting relatively quietly. Israel has sent messages through Egypt that it will not ignore an escalation, and Hamas has sent back messages that it wants to promote calm and does not intend to allow the Gaza Strip to become a site for settling accounts between Iran and Israel."

"However, we do not know the position of the Islamic Jihad and our past experience with them is bad. This organization is much more committed to Iran than Hamas and there are some in Gaza who say that Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhala will not be able to refuse an Iranian request to launch rockets at Israel," Ben Menachem added.

Iran’s threats, he opined, should concern the Americans. "The Iranians are preparing in two arenas. In Iraq, one of the pro-Iranian organizations announced that the moment after the funeral [of Soleimani], it would begin operating against American bases in Iraq. The organization even asked Iraqi security forces to stay away from these bases so that they would not be harmed. The Iranian plan is, first and foremost, to turn Iraq into a major arena of combat with the US in order to bring about the removal of US forces that are there under the US-Iraqi agreement."

"The Shiite parties in Iraq are also trying to force the government to approve a law announcing a withdrawal from the agreement with the US. So Iraq is now going to be the main fighting scene through Iran's affiliates, but the Iranians themselves are planning another series of retaliations, among them a direct attack on US forces in the Middle East, and they have the ability to do so," he added.

Ben Menachem estimated that Hezbollah will likely not intervene this time, noting, “There is a troubled internal situation in Lebanon and Hassan Nasrallah is worried about bringing another war on the country like the Second Lebanon War. At the same time, the Iranians are likely to use the Hezbollah global mechanism to hit American targets abroad. There are threats on the issue and there is already a list which has been released of American personalities that the Iranians intend to harm to 'balance' the assassination of Qassem Soleimani."

Ben Menachem believes that President Trump did not threaten 52 Iranian sites for no reason. "This is certainly a serious threat. The US has a very serious list of targets and is preparing for a number of scenarios - depending on the degree of Iranian aggression."

"The Americans have conveyed a message to the Iranians that the response should be proportionate, but Tehran leaked the issue and intensified its threats. According to reports from Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has already approved all the retaliations and the orders have come down. If there is a harsh retaliation, President Trump has already shown that he is not afraid of the Iranians, and then the tension will be much greater," he concluded.