Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman appeared to imply Monday that Israel could hit Iranian targets in Iraq, days after the Reuters news agency reported that Tehran was providing ballistic missiles and training to loyalist militias there.
“As for the threat from Iran, we are not limiting ourselves to Syria. That should be clear,” Liberman told a conference organized by Hadashot TV news.
Asked specifically if this included Iraq, the defense minister answered: “I’m saying we will handle any Iranian threat, no matter where it comes from. We are maintaining the right to act… and any threat or anything else that comes up is dealt with.”
The Friday report, citing several unnamed Iranian, Iraqi and Western officials, stated that several dozen rockets capable of hitting Israel and Tehran’s Sunni rival Saudi Arabia had been deployed with Iran’s Shiite proxies in Iraq.
It added that Iran was working to provide its allies with missile manufacturing facilities, and has been training militia members in operating the new weapons.
The deployment is meant to improve Iran’s ability to retaliate against any Western or Arab attacks on its territory, as well as to expand its options for attacking opponents in the region, Reuters said.
Iran denied the report. “The lie disseminated by some media on shipment of Iran-made missiles to Iraq is totally irrelevant and unfounded,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said.
“Such news comes merely to cause panic among countries in the region and is in line with their policy to spread Iranophobia,” Qasemi said.
Iran has long used its Shiite proxies and allies in Iraq to hit back at its opponents. According to transcripts of interrogations in 2007 of a top Shiite military and religious figure in Iraq declassified earlier this year, Iran was heavily involved in Iraqi Shiite militias’ attacks on US troops in the years following the American invasion of the country in 2003.
Qais al-Khazali, who now heads the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, which won 15 parliamentary seats in Iraq’s May elections, detailed the scale of Iranian involvement in the country in the 2007 interrogation, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing recently declassified documents.
An airstrike on an Iraqi Shiite militia near the town of al-Bukamal on the Iraq-Syria border in June was blamed by some on Israel.
Also at the conference, Liberman reiterated his previously stated opposition to negotiations being mediated by Egypt and the UN for a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel to end months of on-again, off-again rounds of cross-border violence have reportedly included discussions on easing the decade-old blockade on Gaza. Israel says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.
“I know exactly what’s going on, I’m aware of the negotiations but I’m not involved in that, I don’t believe in it,” Liberman said. “We need to understand that negotiations, whether with [the Palestinain Authority in] Ramallah or with [Hamas in] Gaza, won’t lead us anywhere. All the negotiations have led us to dead ends.”
He maintained Israel should act unilaterally both in Gaza and the West Bank “and mold the reality as we see fit.”
Asked about criticism he has faced for his handling of Gaza by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Liberman suggested that “every minister deal with the matters he is responsible for.”
On his choice last week of his preferred candidate for the IDF’s next chief of staff — which he has said will remain under wraps until it is confirmed — Liberman said he had consulted with many former members of the defense establishment, including defense ministers and former IDF chiefs.
“The one conclusion everyone has is: We can’t go wrong [with the choice],” he said. “The candidates are excellent.”
He said his only guiding criterion was “how that person will lead the army in war, how he will conduct himself…everything else is irrelevant.”