Israel signaled yesterday that it could attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done with scores of air strikes in war-torn Syria. "We are certainly monitoring everything that is happening in Syria and, regarding Iranian threats, we are not limiting ourselves just to Syrian territory. This also needs to be clear," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a conference hosted and aired live by the Israel Television News Company.
Asked if that included possible action in Iraq, Lieberman said: "I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn't matter from where it comes ... Israel's freedom is total. We retain this freedom of action."
There was no immediate response from the government of Iraq, which is technically at war with Israel, nor from U.S. Central Command in Washington, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq.
Citing Iranian, Iraqi and Western sources, Reuters reported last week that Iran had transferred short-range ballistic missiles to Shiite allies in Iraq in recent months. Tehran and Baghdad formally denied that report.
Israel sees in Iran's regional expansion an attempt to open up new fronts against it. Since 2013, Iran has increased its military presence in Syria and deployed hundreds of its special operation troops. Iran has helped the Assad regime throughout the war, dispatching thousands of soldiers, mobilizing the Lebanon-based Shiite Hezbollah group and delivering millions of dollars to the regime, despite its troubled economy hurt by international sanctions. Since the Syria war broke out, Israel had been silently carrying out aerial strikes in Syria, mainly targeting regime and Iranian bases. Israel seems very determined to erase the Iranian presence, as it openly informed the media about the aerial operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier said Israel would attack Iran's "proxies" wherever they are in Syria.
Despite their formal state of hostilities, Israel and Iraq have not openly traded blows in decades. In 1981, Israel's air force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad. During the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq fired dozens of Scud rockets into Israel, which did not retaliate, out of consideration for U.S. efforts to maintain an Arab coalition against Saddam Hussein. Israel made a plan for its commandos to assassinate Saddam in Iraq in 1992, but the plan was abandoned after a fatal training accident.
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