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Israel secretly expanded its Iran fight to Iraq in a major escalation

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Israel has secretly expanded its fight against malign Iranian activities in the Middle East into Iraq, risking an escalation that could potentially ignite a conflict between the US and Iran.

Several weapons and ammunition depots controlled by Iraqi militias with ties to Iran have mysteriously come under attack in recent months. At least one of the attacks was carried out by Israel, a US official told The Wall Street Journal Friday. The attack is said to have killed two Iranian commanders.

Israel has launched multiple attacks in Syria and elsewhere against Iranian forces and their proxies to prevent them from setting up weaponry near Israel’s borders. The latest incident appears to mark the first known Israeli attack in Iraq since 1981, when Israeli destroyed the country’s Osirak nuclear reactor.

“Iran has no immunity, anywhere,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, the AP reports. “We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary.”

The US and Iran have been in a military confrontation that came to the brink of war in June, when President Donald Trump called off retaliatory strikes on Iranian missile sites that had downed a sophisticated US drone.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of a collection of local Iraqi militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, warned this week that the US will “ultimately responsible for what happened,” and that they “have no choice but to defend ourselves and our bases with the weapons at our disposal.”

The fragile Iraqi government walked back the statement and explained that the situation is under investigation, but the parroting of a statement made by the US about Iran and its proxy forces highlights a growing danger in Iraq.

‘Any attacks on Americans in Iraq will be laid at the feet of Iran’

“The concern I have is that it is possible someone will react to these statements, that there will be a price to pay, that there will be a retaliation for this,” Douglas Silliman, the former US ambassador to Iraq, told Insider Friday.

“If PMF leaders decide that they have to punish the US for something they believe Israel has done, that puts a target on the American diplomatic presence, the easier target in Iraq, or on American and coalition forces on Iraqi bases around the country,” he explained, noting that this could lead to an increase in tension between the US and Iran.

Read more: There’s a lurking danger the US-Iran powder keg in the Persian Gulf could be ignited in Iraq

“You have to look at the statements of the administration that any attacks on Americans in Iraq will be laid at the feet of Iran,” Silliman, who left his post as ambassador in February, said. “If it is conducted by a group that Iran has trained and sponsored and armed, this administration is likely to blame Iran.”

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton publicly warned in early May that “any attack” by Iranian forces or proxies on US interests would “be met with unrelenting force” while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo privately warned that the death of a single American at the hands of Iran or its regional proxies would be enough to trigger a military response.

President Donald Trump has threatened to “end” Iran and tweeted that “any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force.”

US lawmakers have previously expressed concerns about the possibility of escalation, despite the fact that both the US and Iran have stressed that war is not the desired outcome.

“Just because you don’t want war doesn’t mean you won’t get war,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Insider’s John Haltiwanger in May, saying that “all it takes is for one Shia militia to knock up against US forces outside Baghdad and we might be spiraling into conflict.

Read more: Sen. Chris Murphy says Trump is blindly risking conflict with Iran and could spark a war even if he doesn’t want one

Even when Israeli attacks on Iranian interests were limited to Syria, senior US military officials noted that there was a risk of retaliation against US forces in the region. “It’s a growing concern for us,” a senior defense official told The Journal last year.

With the expansion of Israeli operations into Iraq, the danger could be even greater.

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