According to Arab media reports, Iran absorbed another blow over the weekend. As a result of an airstrike, Iran lost ballistic missiles it had positioned in Iraq for use against Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The United States denies any connection to the attack, and Israel is keeping mum. This is not the first time an attack on Iraqi targets belonging to pro-Iranian militias is being attributed to Israel.
Iraq has again returned to the headlines. Two weeks after the Iraqi ambassador in Washington, Fareed Yasseen, made waves by saying that “there are objective reasons that may call for the establishment of relations between Iraq and Israel,” some in the Arab world now point to Israel as responsible for attacking the al-Shohada military camp military base in Iraq over the weekend.
On July 19, 2019, the Iraqi army announced that a drone had twice bombed an Iraqi military base near the town of Amerli in eastern Salahuddin, north of Baghdad.
According to Al Arabiya reports, at least one person was killed and two wounded in the attack. The target was a base for pro-Iranian militias of the Hashd al Shaabi, (Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force), which includes a Shiite Turkmen Brigade. The unit was recently provided with Iranian ballistic missiles transported by food-delivery trucks.
Arab media reports say that among casualties were Hizbullah fighters and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Who Was Responsible?
Although Arab commentators took the view that it was an American or Israeli drone attack, the Pentagon denied U.S. involvement and Jerusalem kept mum.
Nevertheless, the airspace over Iraq is in the U.S. CENTCOM area of control. While initial reports said the strike was carried out by a drone, a Popular Mobilization Force official, Ali al-Husseini, told Asharq al Awsat, “We must await the results of the probe to find out what type of aircraft carried out the strike. The strength of the rocket indicates that it was probably not fired by a drone.”
According to Western and Israeli intelligence, in recent months Iran has provided the Iraqi Shiite militias with dozens of guided ballistic missiles. The aim is to build an “alternative missile base” in Iraq after Israel’s successful strikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
Iran fears an American or Israeli attack, and stationing the ballistic missiles in Iraq allows it to use them, in case of an emergency, to hit U.S. military bases or targets in Israel.
These are missiles with ranges of hundreds of kilometers. In charge of the missile relocation is Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Al-Quds Force.
On August 31, 2018, Reuters reported that the missiles are of the Zelzal, Fateh-110, and Zolfaqar types and that Zolfaqar missiles have a range of up to 700 kilometers, enabling them to reach Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, or Tel Aviv if launched from Iraq.
Iran’s Fateh-110 missiles, with 250-300 km range.
This is not the first time a strike on Iraqi militias loyal to Iran is being attributed to Israel. In June 2018, an Iraqi militia was attacked with drones near the town of Khari southeast of Al-Bukhmal on the Syrian-Iraqi border, with 20 to 40 militiamen killed. The official Syrian news agency blamed the American coalition for the attack, but a senior U.S. official ascribed it to Israel.
The Iraqi base hit over the weekend is relatively close to the border with Syria, and Iran may have been planning to move the ballistic missiles into Syria.
The Iraqi government has trouble standing up to Iran, which means its territory is prone to U.S. and Israeli attacks. Experience proves that Israel has excellent intelligence information on IRGC activity in Syria and Iraq that it can quickly translate into offensive operational activity.
If Israel is indeed behind the weekend attack in Iraq, it is good that it is staying silent. The Iranians and the Iraqis certainly suspect who is behind the attack. Although Israel cannot afford to stop hitting Iranian targets that are meant to help open a new front against Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights or Iraq, the current period is very sensitive in light of the U.S.-Iranian tensions. One can only hope that the upcoming Israeli elections will not inspire senior officials to engage in boastfulness in the media.
There is no proof that this was an Israeli attack. The message of whoever did carry out the strike in Iran, however, is that there are actors with very effective offensive military capabilities that will not accept the stationing of Iranian ballistic missiles in Iraq that endanger Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran has a major problem. It has been penetrated by intelligence and has a hard time concealing the IRGC’s clandestine activity in Syria and Iraq. Israel enjoys intelligence and aerial superiority to Iran in Syrian airspace and the vicinity of Syria’s border with Iraq. Iran, nevertheless, is persisting in its efforts to form a new front against Israel. Even amid Iran’s economic and diplomatic plight, its leadership retains the burning ideological hatred toward Israel, and the desire to destroy it is stronger than any other consideration. For the time being, this is not going to change, and for Israel, the north and north-eastern fronts will remain an ongoing concern.