Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hint on Thursday that Israel was behind attacks against Iran-backed militias in Iraq over the past month.
“I don’t grant Iran immunity anywhere,” he said to Channel 9. “Iran is a state, a power, that has sworn to annihilate Israel. It’s trying to establish bases against us everywhere. In Iran itself, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen.”
The interviewer then asked: “In other words, if necessary, we act in Iraq also?”
Netanyahu replied: “We’re acting not only if necessary, we’re acting in very many theaters against a state that seeks to annihilate us. Obviously I’ve given the security forces the order and the operational freedom to do what is necessary in order to disrupt these plots by Iran. And obviously I’ve also led, and in many ways continue to lead, a global effort against Iran. And there were years when I stood alone.”
“Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” he told reporters on Monday, responding to a question about recent attacks on military installations in Iraq.
The Iranians continue to threaten Israel with annihilation and are building military bases across the Middle East intended to carry out that goal, Netanyahu said, blaming the 2015 nuclear deal for Iran’s increasing aggression. “We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary,” he declared.
According to foreign media reports, Israel has been increasingly active in carrying out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, shifting its focus after years of reported strikes aimed at preventing Tehran from gaining a foothold in Syria.
Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state, but Israeli officials have so far neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for any strikes in the country.
An Iraqi government report obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday said a massive explosion at a munitions depot run by an Iranian-backed militia near Baghdad last week was caused by a drone strike. The report outlined the conclusions of a fact-finding committee ordered by the government to investigate the August 12 explosion at the al-Saqr military base.
It said the blast was caused by a drone strike that sparked a huge fire, and ruled out earlier suggestions that it was caused by an electrical short circuit or faulty storage of munitions that allowed them to overheat in sweltering summer temperatures.
The blast at the al-Saqr, or “Falcon,” base killed one civilian, wounded 28 and damaged nearby homes, echoing across Baghdad. The base houses a weapons depot for the Iraqi federal police and the mainly Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. The state-sanctioned militias, most of which receive backing from Iran, have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group.
The report did not say who the drone belonged to.
Al-Saqr was among a string of explosions that hit militia bases and munitions depots over the past several weeks. The deadliest, a July 19 blast, was blamed on a drone that hit a base in Amirli, northern Iraq, killing two Iranians and causing a huge fire. The most recent explosion came on Tuesday night at a base north of Baghdad.
Media and officials have speculated on a range of possible perpetrators, including Israel, the United States and rival Iraqi factions.
If Israel did carry out the bombings, it would be an expansion of its campaign against Iran’s spreading influence in the region. Israel has struck Iranian bases in neighboring Syria on many occasions, but it is not known to have done so in Iraq.
An American official said this week the US has no evidence or credible intelligence that Israel was behind the two most recent blasts — on Tuesday and on August 12. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue.
Last week, a former Iraqi deputy prime minister indicated Israel was responsible for a massive explosion in a weapons depot controlled by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Baghdad.
“We believe they are weapons we were holding onto for a neighboring state and they were targeted by an oppressive colonial state on the basis of a treasonous Iraqi act,” former deputy prime minister Baha al-Araji wrote on Twitter.
A Western diplomatic source reportedly told a Saudi-owned newspaper Wednesday that Israel has conducted several strikes on Iranian-controlled bases in Syria and Iraq with permission from the US and Russia.
Moscow and Washington agreed that Israel could conduct these attacks on Iranian targets in order to “ensure Israel’s security,” the source told the London-based Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat.
As part of the reported agreement, Israel would not publicly acknowledge carrying out the strikes.