US Officials: Israel Strike its Iraq 08/23 06:27
JERUSALEM (AP) -- U.S. officials have confirmed that Israel was responsible
for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month, an attack that
would mark a significant escalation in Israel's years-long campaign against
Iranian military entrenchment across the region.
The confirmation comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is
strongly hinting that his country is behind recent airstrikes that have hit
bases and munitions depot belonging to Iran-backed paramilitary forces
operating in Iraq.
The mystery attacks have not been claimed by any side and have left Iraqi
officials scrambling for a response, amid strong speculation that Israel may
have been behind them. Earlier this week, the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite
militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, openly accused
Israeli drones of carrying out the attacks, but ultimately blamed Washington
and threatened strong retaliation for any future attack.
Such attacks are potentially destabilizing for Iraq and its fragile
government, which has struggled to remain neutral amid growing tensions between
the United States and Iran.
There have been at least three explosions at Iraqi Shiite militia bases in
the past month. American officials now confirm Israel was responsible for at
least one of them.
Two American officials said Israel carried out an attack on an Iranian
weapons depot in July that killed two Iranian military commanders. The U.S.
officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to
discuss the matter with the media.
The July 19 attack struck a militia base in Amirli, in Iraq's northern
Salaheddin province, causing a huge explosion and fire. A senior official with
the Shiite militias at the time told The Associated Press that the base hit
housed advisers from Iran and Lebanon --- a reference to the Iranian-backed
Lebanese Hezbollah group. He said the attack targeted the headquarters of the
advisers and a weapons depot.
On August 12, a massive explosion at the al-Saqr military base near Baghdad
shook the capital, killing one civilian and wounding 28 others. The base housed
a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the PMF. The most recent of
the explosions came Tuesday night, at a munitions depot north of Baghdad.
There have been weeks of speculation in Israel that the army is attacking
targets in Iraq.
In an interview with a Russian-language TV station on Thursday, Netanyahu
indicated the speculation is true.
"I don't give Iran immunity anywhere," he said, accusing the Iranians of
trying to establish bases "against us everywhere," including Syria, Lebanon,
Yemen and Iraq.
Asked whether that means Israel is operating in Iraq, Netanyahu said: "We
act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us. Of course I
gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed
to thwart these plans of Iran."
Early Friday, the New York Times, citing Israeli and U.S. officials,
reported that Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.
It would be the first known Israeli airstrike in Iraq since 1981, when
Israeli warplanes destroyed a nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein. It
also steps up Israel's campaign against Iranian military involvement across the
Israel has previously acknowledged hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian targets
in neighboring Syria, primarily arms shipments believed to be destined for
Iran's Hezbollah allies.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that
it will not allow the Iranians, who are supporting the forces of Syrian
President Bashar Assad, to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
Striking Iraq would be far more complicated than reaching neighboring Syria.
The Israeli warplanes would likely have to travel through Turkey, a former
ally that now has cool relations with Israel, or through Saudi Arabia, to carry
out strikes on Iraq.
Israel and the Saudis do not have formal diplomatic relations, but are
believed to have established a behind-the-scenes alliance based on their shared
hostility toward Iran.