Iran increases missile threat to Israel, linking Syria and Iraq

Source: Iran increases missile threat to Israel, linking Syria and Iraq – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Missile facilities and launchers are reportedly located near Russian and US-led Coalition forces and run by Iranian proxies.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 AUGUST 31, 2018 17:31
An Iranian Officer of Revolutionary Guards with Israel flag drawn on his boots

Two new reports reveal the depth of Iran’s missile threat emanating from Iraq and Syria. In Syria a clandestine surface-to-surface missile (SSM) facility at Wadi Jahanamm will likely be completed by early 2019. In Iraq the Iranian regime has deployed medium-range missiles with Shi’ite militia proxies that are capable of hitting Israel. Together the missile threats represent a creeping power-play by Tehran at the same time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Jerusalem would continue to act against threats and after John Boltonvisited Jerusalem in mid-August.

By reportedly basing its missiles near Russian forces in northern Syria and near US-led Coalition forces in Iraq, Iran is trying to protect its missiles while threatening Israel and potentially dragging Israel into a regional conflict if Jerusalem wanted to strike at these facilities and threats. Tehran seeks to play this dangerous regional missile game as it carves out an arc of influence from Baghdad via Damascus to Lebanon.

On August 30 ImageSat International released a report noting that “Tehran is a major contributor to the Syrian missile project, including building the new SSM facility near Baniyas.” ImageSat International had previously released satellite images of the Wadi Jahanamm site last August. But there are new details now that link the Wadi Jahannam facility to the nearby Masyaf facility which has been hit by airstrikes several times. The Syrian regime has blamed Israel for these attacks. Both Masyaf and the other site are “located within the operational range of an S-400 deployment” because they are close to Russian facilities at Tartus on the coast.

The warnings about the development at the Syrian site come as a new report emerged that Iran has sent missiles to its allies in Iraq. Iran has transferred three missile types into Iraq, including its latest Zolfaghar (Zulfiqar) missile, which is a solid-fueled short range ballistic missile capable of reaching a range of 700 km. It was first used in a strike by Iran against Islamic State in June 2017 and was fired from Kermanshah in Iraq. Its deployment in Iraq puts it within easy range of Israel. The Zolfaghar is complimented by Fateh 110 short range, road-mobile missiles that can reach up to 300km. To reach Israel these missiles would have to be deployed in the Western desert of Iraq. According to the report Iran also transported Zelzal-3 rockets that can reach up to 250km. Iranian and Iraqi sources told Reuters that Iran had made a decision to produce missiles in Iraq. A Western source said that factories had been established east of Baghdad and north of Kerbala. “It seems Iran has been turning Iraq into its forward missile base.” Kata’ib Hezbollah, a Shi’ite militia in Iraq that is allied to Iran controls the areas where the missiles are. It shares  a similar name and role as Lebanese Hezbollah, but is a separate militia.

There are two interesting details here. First, that the missiles or warheads for them are being produced in Iraq and that Shi’ite militias run the factories. Second, that Kata’ib Hezbollah is specifically mentioned. These militias is part of a group of militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) which helped Iraq fight ISIS. In 2016 the PMU was incorporated into Iraq’s official paramilitary structure. In 2017 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said that these Shi’ite militias were the “hope” of the future of Iraq. In 2018 the militias gained even more influence when their political party, the Fatah alliance, came in second in the May elections.

This puts militias like Kata’ib Hezbollah close to the center of power in Baghdad. US officials said in May that these militias “posed the greatest threat to the safety of US personnel” and could harm the stabilization of Iraq. The US Department of Treasury has not only sanctioned Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, but also sanctioned the Iraqi bank Al Bilad Islamic Bank, accusing it of transferring funds to Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In June an airstrike in Syrua near Albukamal on the Iraqi allegedly killed numerous members of Kata’ib Hezbollah. The militia is operating in Syria aiding the Syrian regime. The militia blamed the Americans for the airstrike but Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida blamed Israel. It now appears that Iran transferred new missiles to Iraq since June, according to the Reuters report. This also took place as the Fatah alliance was jockeying for control of a coalition government in Iraq. So the transfer of weapons into Iraq to be managed and run by the Shi’ite militias gives these militias new power and leverage over Iraq, allowing them to act not only as an official force of the government, but as a parallel state with their own missiles capable of striking Israel. This, in affect, allows the militias like Kata’ib Hezbollah to be the long arm of the IRGC and Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran can use Iraq as a base to threaten Israel, and not only do Iraqis pay the potential consequences, but Iran’s proxy forces hope that the US Coalition would have to defend Iraq from any potential Israeli retaliation for the presence of these missiles. The US is still training and equipping the Iraqi army and an ally of Baghdad.

This is the strategic paradigm that underpins Iran’s goals in Syria and Iraq. It wants to use both countries for its own goals. It wants to build missile factories underneath the S-400 air defense umbrella in northern Syria near Russian forces in order to protect its facilities. In Iraq it wants to locate missiles near Coalition air bases and facilities in Anbar province.

Jerusalem has the multi-layered missile defense to confront these threats, including David’s Sling, the Arrow and US Patriot batteries. But Tehran’s goals is to pressure Israel on two or more fronts, making any Israeli moves more complex in this dangerous chessboard of missile threats.

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