Netanyahu suggests Israel may have struck Iraqi militias

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to suggest that his country was behind a recent series of attacks against Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, The Times of Israel reports.

Speaking in Ukraine, Netanyahu said “Iran has no immunity anywhere” when asked if Israel was behind the recent attacks on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic. He made the comments during a briefing at a hotel in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, according to the Israeli news site.

“We will act — and currently are acting — against them [Iran], wherever it is necessary,” Netanyahu added, according to The Times of Israel.

A Netanyahu spokesman declined to confirm the prime minister’s remarks to Rudaw, instead referring to the official prime minister’s website, which does not include the remarks.

Iraqi Security Media Cell spokesperson Yehia Rasool told Rudaw the press conference comments will not face serious Baghdad consideration.

“What Netanyahu said is only speech, confirming nothing,” Rasool said. “Iraq will take an Israeli statement seriously only if it is released through the Israeli defense ministry.”

Israel has a long history of neither confirming nor denying its operations.

Netanyahu’s suggestion follows Iraqi suspicions that perhaps Israel was behind the airstrikes.

On August 13, a massive blast engulfed an arms depot at the al-Saqr military base belonging to a PMF militia in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. One was killed and 13 were injured in the explosion. While hot weather and negligent storage were blamed for the incident, others called for investigations, claiming that foreign hands may have been behind the attacks.

“The continuous blasts inside PMF warehouses without real investigations are a dangerous development,” Qais al-Khazaali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a PMF group, tweeted on Saturday. “There is an agenda working to target the capabilities of PMF inside Iraq.”

The blast became subject to much speculation. one of the theories floated was that Israel was behind it.

Other outlets have reported on the likelihood of Israeli involvement in the strikes. The Wall Street Journal reported there were “strong reasons” to believe Israel struck the PMF.

Also in July, another airstrike blamed on an ISIS drone hit a PMF base in Amerli, Diyala province, injuring two PMF fighters. Two Iranian advisors working with the PMF group were likewise injured in the strike that was blamed on two drones.

These mysterious incidents prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to ban all unauthorized flights in Iraqi airspace at an August National Security Council meeting in a sign that perhaps foreign aircraft were responsible for the airstrikes.

If true that Israel was behind the airstrikes, it would not be the first time the country has bombed Iraqi territory. In 1981, during the Iran-Iraq war, Israel launched surprise airstrikes on the partly-finished Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak.

Israel has also conducted multiple airstrikes against Iranian targets in neighboring Syria, claiming it wants to prevent Iranian missiles reaching Hezbollah and deny Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

In Iraq, some PMF groups like the Badr Corps have had strong ties with Tehran since the Iran-Iraq war.

Israel fears Iran could be also using Iraq to store weaponry. PMF groups participate in the Iran-sponsored “Jerusalem Day”, in which Israeli flags are burnt and anti-Israeli hostility is on full display.

In response to the attacks and the speculation surrounding them, “The Iraqi Prime Minister has established a committee to investigate the incident at the PMF weapons depot,” Rasool told Rudaw, to be released “by the end of this week.”

Iraq is trying to avoid the tug-of-war of increasing US-Iran tensions to save itself from fresh conflict on its territory. Iraq has witnessed conflicts and instability for over four decades now, and only defeated the Islamic State (ISIS) in late 2017, though the group is still carrying out attacks.