Archive for September 30, 2019

Iraqi PM blames Israel for spate of airstrikes targeting Iran-linked fighters

September 30, 2019

Source: Iraqi PM blames Israel for spate of airstrikes targeting Iran-linked fighters | The Times of Israel

Adel Abdul Mahdi says investigation indicates Jerusalem behind recent strikes on bases, weapon depots belonging to powerful Shiite militias; IDF declines to comment

In this photo from August 12, 2019, plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Monday that investigations have determined the recent spate of airstrikes targeting powerful Iranian-backed militias in Iraq were carried out by Israel.

“Investigations into the targeting of some Popular Mobilization Forces positions indicate that Israel carried it out,” Abdul Mahdi told Al Jazeera, marking the first time Baghdad has directly blamed the Jewish state for the strikes.

The Qatari-funded TV network also quoted him as saying that “many indicators show that no one wants war in the region except for Israel,” according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the statements from the Iraqi premier, saying “these are reports from foreign media and we do not comment on them.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to the media at a news conference during a visit to Ankara, Turkey, May 15, 2019. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

Since July, there have been at least nine strikes both inside Iraq and across the border in Syria, targeting the Iran-backed militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF.

Leaders of the powerful Shiite paramilitary group have repeatedly blamed Israel and by extension its US ally, which maintains more than 5,000 troops in Iraq.

Israel has not confirmed its involvement in the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at the possibility that it has struck in Iraq.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, and has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed primarily at preventing the transfers of sophisticated weapons, including guided missiles, to the Iran-backed, Lebanese  Hezbollah terror group.

This quiet war has reportedly expanded to Iraq in recent weeks, with unnamed US officials saying the Israel Defense Forces was behind at least some strikes on Iran-linked sites in Iraq.

Illustrative: Popular Mobilization Forces members stand by a burning truck after a drone attack blamed on Israel near Qaim border crossing, in Anbar province, Iraq, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo)

The latest strike on Iranian militias came Friday night, when an unmanned aerial vehicle reportedly struck PMF bases along the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Shiite fighters in the Boukamal region responded with anti-aircraft fire, according to local media. There were no reported casualties.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV network has reported that Hezbollah also maintains a presence in the Boukamal region.

Despite the weekend strike, a nearby border crossing between Syria and Iraq that was shuttered in 2012 during the Syrian civil war reopened on Monday, giving Iranian forces easier access to eastern Syria amid soaring tensions with the West.

The key crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal was expected to strengthen trade between the two countries, and officials touted its reopening as a “victory for Syrian and Iraqi friendship.”

Iraqi and Syrian border guards soldiers congratulate each other during the opening ceremony of the crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Boukamal in Anbar province, Iraq, September 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Some 800 freight trucks are expected to cross from Syria, Syria’s state news agency said.

Syria and Iraq have three key border crossings between them, with Boukamal, the only one controlled by Assad’s government. The second one is controlled by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, while the third crossing, the nearby Tanf, is held by US-backed Syrian rebels.

AP contributed to this report.


Iran Guards chief: Destroying Israel now not a dream but an ‘achievable goal’ 

September 30, 2019

Source: Iran Guards chief: Destroying Israel now not a dream but an ‘achievable goal’ | The Times of Israel

In claim prominently reported in Iran, Major General Hossein Salami declares Tehran able to annihilate ‘the impostor Zionist regime’

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Monday that destroying Israel was now an “achievable goal.”

Four decades on from Iran’s Islamic revolution, “we have managed to obtain the capacity to destroy the impostor Zionist regime,” Major General Hossein Salami was quoted saying by the IRGC’s Sepah news site.

“This sinister regime must be wiped off the map and this is no longer … a dream [but] it is an achievable goal,” Salami said.

The remarks were made at a biannual meeting in Tehran for commanders of the IRGC amid rising tensions between Iran and the US and its allies.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, September 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

Salami’s comments were given prominent coverage by the Tasnim and Fars news agencies, close to ultra-conservative political factions.

The official IRNA agency also carried his remarks, but placed more emphasis on his assertion that Iran was growing stronger and would finally beat its foes despite “hostility” toward it.

US President Donald Trump officially designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in April. “This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” the president said in a statement.”The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”

Salami’s comments Monday came two days after Abbas Nilforoushan, the deputy commander of operations of the IRGC, threatened that if Israel attacks Iran, it will have to collect “bits and pieces” of Tel Aviv from the Mediterranean Sea.

“Iran has encircled Israel from all four sides. Nothing will be left of Israel,” said Nilforoushan in an interview with the Iranian news agency Tasnim on Saturday. “Israel is not in a position to threaten Iran,” he said according to a translation published by Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“If Israel makes a strategic mistake, it has to collect bits and pieces of Tel Aviv from the lower depths of the Mediterranean Sea,” he added.

“If the enemies could have started a war against Iran, they would have done it,” Nilforoushan said, adding that geography plays to Iran’s favor. “We are not a small country that could be conquered in one step. If all the Western, Arab and Israeli coalitions forces enter our country, Iran’s geography will defeat them before they can do anything.”

Nilforoushan also boasted of Iran’s “deep and long-range [missile] assault capability” and said Tehran has the means to make this capability operations.

“We will not let the enemies to face us at our borders. We will quickly drag the war to the bases and interests of the enemies anywhere they may happen to be,” he warned.

Iran has been on edge, fearing an attack on the country over a drone-and-missile strike on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry earlier this month attributed to Tehran. Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attack, but the US alleges Iran carried out the assault.

Satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

The attack in Saudi Arabia was the latest incident following the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, over a year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord. The nuclear deal was meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons — something Iran denies it wants to do — in exchange for economic incentives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a sharp critic of the nuclear deal negotiated under the administration of former President Barack Obama, and welcomed Washington’s pull-back from the accord, urging further pressure on Iran.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu exposed the existence of a secret nuclear facility in central Iran in which he said the regime had conducted experiments in the pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Israeli premier said that once Iran detected that Israel had learned about the secret nuclear site, located in Abadeh, south of Isfahan, the regime quickly destroyed it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press regarding the Iranian nuclear program, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on September 9, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Iran regularly threatens Israel, viewing the country as a powerful enemy allied with the United States and Sunni countries in the region against Tehran and its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has also thwarted Iranian operations in neighboring Syria where its fighters and those of Iranian proxy Hezbollah have been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since 2011.

Tensions with the Hezbollah terror group soared this month after the Israel Defense Forces late last month thwarted an attempt by Iranian operatives in Syria — including two former Hezbollah members — to carry out an attack on northern Israel with armed drones and attacked their base. It also followed a drone attack in Beirut, attributed to Israel, that reportedly destroyed key components of a joint Hezbollah-Iran project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon. Hezbollah responded to the attacks by firing anti-tank missiles into northern Israel earlier this month, although Israel said no soldiers were injured in the incident.

Hezbollah is seen by Israel as one of its most dangerous enemies, with an arsenal of rockets and missiles larger than that of most countries. The IDF last week completed a week-long training program for its senior combat officers aimed at preparing them for a war against Hezbollah, providing them with the latest intelligence, fighting methods and operational plans.