Tel Aviv: Israel may target Iranian sites in Iraq as it does in Syria, if it “falls in the Iranian hands” after the US withdrawal on December 31. This is the assessment among Israeli defence experts.
According to the foreign media, Israel attacked sites in Iraq in the past but the source say that this “picture” may change dramatically.
“With the limited number of US military in Iraq, Israel will have greater freedom to attack without the risk of harming Americans,” Dr Mordechai Kedar a senior Israeli expert on middle eastern issues said. He added that some years ago Israel attacked targets in Iraq and that angered Washington as “it considered this country as their own yard.”
“After the US withdrawal Washington may give Israel a free hand to perform strikes against Iranian related targets in Iraq,” Kedar said. He added that in spite of the fact that in the recent elections the pro-Iranian political groups failed, the Iranian influence in Iraq by their militias has not been reduced, “they actually control big parts of Iraq”, Kedar told Raksha Anirveda.
According to a paper written by two senior researchers from the Israel Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Israel has been suspected for some attacks in Iran. The two researchers, Orit Perlov and Udi Dekel wrote in 2019 that there have been several reports in recent months that Iran is building an array of ballistic missiles aimed at Israel in Iraq. This choice of venue follows repeated Israeli attacks on Iranian military infrastructure in Syria, which have disrupted (albeit not entirely) Iran’s efforts to consolidate its power in the country.
“According to various reports, in the last two months, weapons depots belonging to the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi Shiite militia (Popular Mobilization Forces – PMF) have been attacked in Iraq. Iranian missiles were stored in the weapons depots, and infrastructure for assembling advanced weapons was built there. A strike on an ammunition cache near Balad air base in the Salah ad Din Governorate (north of Baghdad) on August 20, 2019 was attributed to Israel, and was the fourth in a series of attacks and explosions at bases held by the PMF – all in the Baghdad region, or neighbouring provinces. It followed attacks at Amerli base on July 19; Camp Ashraf in Diyala Governorate on July 28; and the Saqr military base in the Dura neighbourhood of southern Baghdad on August 12.”
Iraq is preparing for December 31, 2021 – the date of the withdrawal of US forces from the country. This in spite rumours that the withdrawal would be postponed by several months.
“The departure date of the fighting forces (USA) on December 31 is fixed and there is no change,” General Tahsin al-Hafaji, a spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, told the Iraqi news agency.
In July, US and Iraqi leaders agreed that most US troops would leave before the end of the year. Some 2,500 American troops are fighting in Iraq as part of the Islamic State coalition. An unknown number of them will remain after the end of the year to advise and train the Iraqi army, and the US will continue to cooperate with the Iraqi army in training, armaments, intelligence and counterterrorism, General Tahsin al-Hafaji added.
The United States will also continue to participate in an air strike in Iraq as part of the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State.
Maj. General (Ret.) Amos Gilead said “Iran sees Iraq another weak county like Syria and Lebanon that its proxies can control. There is no doubt that Iran will establish bases in Iraq and that will affect the overall threat posed by Teheran.” He has served in Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as Head of the Military Intelligence Research Division and was Responsible for the Overall National Intelligence Assessment.
According to the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Iraq is of great geopolitical importance in Iran’s regional strategy. As a western neighbour to Iran and an eastern neighbour to Syria, Iraq allows the Islamic Republic to secure a land connection to its allies in Syria and Lebanon. Especially, since the start of the Syrian war in 2011 and the rise of ISIS in 2014, this land connection has allowed Iran-backed militias to move easily between the three countries to counter perceived threats against the Iran-led axis in the region.
At the same time, this geopolitical importance makes Tehran very sensitive to the presence and activities of rival powers in Iraq. This was the main reason why, in the post-2003 period, Iran tried, through its allied militias, to prevent Iraq from becoming a permanent zone of influence for Washington and its allies, an approach that continues to be at the heart of Iran’s strategy in Iraq. Iran has had similar, albeit relatively less, sensitivity to the influence of regional rivals, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Iraq.
According to the SWP paper, Iran’s desire for exclusive influence in Iraq has been at odds with the interests of Western countries. Although Iran’s domestic economic problems have never allowed it to become an unrivalled actor in the Iraqi market, in the political and security spheres, Iran’s influence has effectively prevented successive Iraqi governments from developing any serious pro-Western approach. At the same time, the continued activities of Iran-backed groups have been at odds with the European desire to regain stability through inclusive rule and good governance in Iraq. Similarly, Iranian influence has limited the possibility of forming a strong and genuinely independent government in Iraq. In fact, so far, the only serious area of common interest between Iran and the EU in Iraq has been the fight against jihadi terrorism, especially ISIS.
Throughout the entire Gulf War air campaign, Iraqi forces fired approximately 42 Scud missiles into Israel, from January 17 to February 23 1991. The distance between Iran and Israel is 1800 km, while the distance from Iraq to Israel is only 870 km. This according to Israeli sources may bring Iran to deploy its ground – ground ballistic missiles in Iraq.