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Israel Declines To Rule Out Strikes On Iranian Military Targets In Iraq


Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (file photo)

Israel's defense minister has said the Jewish state will not rule out staging air strikes on suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq after carrying out deadly raids on Iranian facilities in neighboring Syria in recent years.

"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 news conference in Jerusalem on September 3.

Lieberman's statement comes after Reuters reported that Iran recently transferred short-range ballistic missiles to Shi'ite militia allies in Iraq.

"I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn't matter from where it comes," Lieberman said. "Israel's freedom is total. We retain this freedom of action."

There was no immediate response from the governments of Iran or Iraq, or from U.S. Central Command in Washington, D.C., which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Israel's Channel 1 television reported that in recent weeks, the United States asked Israel not to attack in Iraqi territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on September 1 that he was "deeply concerned" by the Reuters report of Iranian missile transfers to Iraq. Tehran and Baghdad both denied that report.

"If true, this would be a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty and of UNSCR 2231," he tweeted, referring to a UN Security Council resolution endorsing Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The Trump administration abandoned that deal in May, citing, among other factors, Iran's ballistic-missile projects.

Israel began carrying out air strikes in Syria in 2013 against suspected arms transfers and deployments by Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Shi'ite Hizballah militia.

These operations, which have resulted in the reported deaths of dozens of Iranian troops and allied militia fighters, have largely been ignored by Russia, Damascus's biggest ally, which intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015.

Reuters reported that the Israeli military operations in Syria have been coordinated with other "powers" conducting their own military operations there.

A Western diplomat told Reuters that Israel had a "free hand" in Syria as a result of that coordination, but it was expected not to take any military action in Iraq, where the United States has been trying to help the government achieve stability after helping to largely oust the Islamic State militant group from its Iraqi strongholds last year.

Israel and Iraq remain technically at war, though they have not openly exchanged fire in decades.

In 1981, Israel's air force destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad. During the 1991 Persian 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.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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