In an unprecedented escalation which could reshape alliances in the Middle East, American officials have confirmed that Israel was behind an airstrike on an Iraqi ammunition depot operated by a pro-Iran militia last month, according to The Associated Press:
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 admission comes after two more mystery explosions rocked paramilitary bases in and around Baghdad within the last two weeks, resulting in multiple paramilitary members killed, at least one civilian death, and dozens of injured, and which prompted Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi to close the country’s airspace to all “unauthorized flights”.
Baghdad has threatened “strong response” if it is confirmed Israeli drones or jets are behind the attacks, and further the military is ready to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft over Iraqi soil.
Amid the spate of ‘mystery explosions’ recently rocking the Iraqi capital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday of this week actually seemed to positively boast that the Israeli Air Force was behind airstrikes on pro-Iran militia bases in Iraq, saying that Israel will “continue to act militarily” to curtail Iranian expansion in the region, according to The Times of Israel.
“Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” he told reporters while on a state visit to Kiev early this week. He was responding to a specific question about the mystery attacks on Iraq. “We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary,” he declared.
“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,” Netanyahu said.
Both Israeli and Arabic media took it as a tacit admission that Israel is now conducing air raids over Iraqi soil — which if confirmed would mark a huge escalation following repeat airstrikes on Syria of the past couple years.
Footage showing the August 12th arms depot blast, also widely blamed on Israel:
— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) August 12, 2019
The specific attack US officials have now admitted was carried out by Israel occurred on July 19. The AP described it as follows:
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.
Iranian media reported a funeral for a “shrine defender” named Abolfazl Sarabian on the next day, which typically denotes someone fighting in Iraq and Syria.
The last base to be hit, on August 20, was Balad airbase, which actually hosts US forces and contractors, according to Reuters. The installation also hosts US-supplied Iraqi F-16 fighter jets.
Thus far Israel has neither explicitly confirmed nor denied having any role in either attacks – Netanyahu’s strong hinting during his comments notwithstanding; however, with Iraqi military commanders and government officials already denouncing Israel over the repeat strikes and violation of its sovereignty, this is sure to hasten growing demands from Iraqi parliament for a hasty US troop exit from the country.