The United States considered targeting Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani since at least July 2018, unnamed US officials have told The New York Times.
According to the newspaper, officials considered killing the senior Iranian general outside Iran, in Syria or Iraq, deeming that an attack against him in Iran itself would be too difficult to accomplish. The US effort reportedly included cultivating agents to report on Soleimani’s movements across the region.
Former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly formally presented the option of assassinating Soleimani and other Revolutionary Guard leaders in May, after the US deployment of a carrier strike group to the Middle East and a series of tanker sabotage attacks which Washington blamed on Tehran.
Officials told the NYT that US Central Command and Joint Special Operations Command began planning Soleimani’s assassination in September, discussing the option of killing the general in Syria or Iraq. Syria was reportedly seen as the ‘more complicated’ option amid fears that targeting Soleimani while he was among Hezbollah militia might lead to a war with Israel.
A memo signed by Trump National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien listing Soleimani as a target began to be circulated on December 31, the same day that Iraqi protesters attempted to seize the US Embassy in Baghdad in response to the December 27 US airstrikes on a government-allied Shia militia group.
That memo reportedly also included options to target an Iranian energy facility and a Revolutionary Guard coast guard command-and-control vessel. Along from Soleimani, O’Brien’s memo proposed targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a Quds Force commander near Sana’a, Yemen. The US moved forward with targeting Shahlai, but missed, a US official later told media.