On January 23, 2019, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida reported that Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), had, on January 18, visited a city in southern Syria near the Syria-Israel border. By doing so, he violated the Israel-Russia-U.S. agreement that Iranian forces must stay at least 40 kilometers away from the border. The report's headline noted that this visit is what sparked the Israel-Iran clash two days later, during which Israel attacked targets in Syria and in response Iranian forces fired a ballistic missile at Israel's Mt. Hermon ski resort in the Golan Heights.
According to the Al-Jarida report, upon his return to Iran, Soleimani briefed Iran's Supreme National Security Council on his Syria visit and on Israel's attack, and also said that Russia had given the Iranian forces information in advance regarding which targets Israel was about to attack – allowing them to evacuate and prevent loss of life. It also reported that at the conclusion of the meeting, the council resolved to recommend to Syria that it not hold back in responding to Israeli attacks, and that Russia be informed that Iran will respond to every Israeli attack as it sees fit.
Qassem Soleimani (Source: Arabi21.com, August 18, 2018)
The following are translated excerpts of the Al-Jarida report:
"On January 18, 2019, the day of [sic] the suicide attack on U.S. troops [sic] in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, near the Turkish border, IRGC Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani visited a city in southern Syria near the Israel-occupied Syrian Golan. The highly unusual visit violated the U.S.-Russia-Israel agreement, by which Damascus and Tehran also have agreed to abide, under which Iranian and Iran-backed forces in Syria would come no closer than 40 kilometers to the Syria-Israel ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.
"Al-Jarida learned from a knowledgeable source that Soleimani visited the Sunni town of Al-Ghariya Al-Sharqiya in the Dera district near the Dera-Damascus road and the Nasib border crossing with Jordan. In addition, the town is less than 40 kilometers from the ceasefire line in the Golan.
"Soleimani's secret visit came two days before a surface-to-surface missile struck the ski resort in the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights [i.e. Mt. Hermon], and that Israel claimed was launched by Iranian forces, and not by forces loyal to or aligned with Iran. This [the firing of the Iranian missile] came in response to a series of Israeli attacks on several [Iranian military] positions in southern Syria where, according to reports, missiles were recently deployed by Iran.
"The source provided Al-Jarida with specific details about [Soleimani's] visit to Al-Ghariyya Al-Sharqiyya, and revealed that it lasted for two hours, from 8:00 to 10:00 PM, and that the apartment in which the visit took place was under surveillance.
"The source also disclosed a document leaked from the Syrian Army's Division 1 concerning how [Iranian forces and their allies] should conduct themselves with 'allied and friendly forces in the southern region.' This document attests to the fact that Iranian forces and their allies still remain within the strip stretching 40 kilometers [from the Israeli border], and that the Iranians are continuing, via the[se forces], to build and entrench a military presence in southern Syria that deals them a new card [to play] – the ability to open a front in the Golan Heights against Israel if [Iran] comes under attack on its soil or if an Israel-Hizbullah conflict breaks out.
"A knowledgeable source told Al-Jarida that in Tehran, the Supreme National Security Council met on the night of Monday [January 21]-Tuesday [January 22] and that during the meeting Soleimani presented a report on the Israeli attacks [in Syria] and on his visit to Syria, from which he had just returned.
"The source added that Soleimani said that the Russians had informed the Iranians of the targets that Israel [was about] to bomb half an hour before [it actually happened] and that the targets had been evacuated immediately [upon receiving the information]. For this reason, he said, neither the Iranian forces nor their allies had suffered losses in the attack, except for a number [who were] wounded during the evacuation. The source went on to say that the Qods Force commander assessed that the only way to stop the Israeli operations was to respond to them by [firing] three missiles [at Israel] for every [Israeli] missile, and by attempting to bring down Israeli aircraft even if they are in Lebanese airspace. He stressed that the Syrian government should be pressured to respond to [attacks by] Israel, particularly after its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, took direct responsibility for the attacks on Syria, which, under international law, gives it the right to respond.
"The source noted that Soleimani assesses that a [Syrian] response [by firing missiles] into Israel's depth would lead to Netanyahu's loss in the elections set to take place in April, and that if [there is no response] he [i.e. Netanyahu] will continue to escalate [the confrontation] until he wins the election.
"The source added that at the end of the meeting it was decided to recommend to the Syrian government that it respond to every new attack [by Israel], and also that it inform the Russians that the Iranians would not respect any red line and that if there is any attack on its forces they will respond as they see fit..."
The report in Al-Jarida: "Soleimani Visit In Southern Syria Ignited The Israel-Iran Front" - (Source: Al-Jarida, January 23, 2019).