Following Sunday's US airstrikes on Iranian-affiliated militias in Iraq, Israel must now be more careful about its own airstrikes in Iraq, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin tweeted on Monday.
Yadlin said that the US decision to directly engage Iran and its proxies with kinetic force was "the crossing of a rubicon" in which the US set down a red-line for Iran that it will respond with military force if the Islamic republic kills Americans.
This past weekend a missile attack from an Iran-affiliated militia killed a US contractor and wounded US soldiers at a base in Iraq.
Iranian-affiliated militias had launched missile attacks on US forces for several weeks, but this was the first attack in which an American was killed.
Until now, many Israeli officials had criticized the Trump administration for failing to use force to respond to Iran's shooting down of a US drone, to an Islamic republic attack on Saudi oil fields and to the missile attacks on US bases.
In contrast, Israel has carried out airstrikes on Iranian militias in Iraq for between several months to even a year.
Last week, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi even discussed the attacks in a more public and detailed manner than ever before.
Yadlin's point was that Israel had more freedom of action in Iraq against Iranians as long as the US was not acting.
However, now that the US is taking action against Iran, Israel must be more careful about such airstrikes in Iraq and coordinate them more closely with the overall US strategy.
Yadlin noted the risk that Iraq could force US forces out of the country and that Israel does not want to be the cause of such a scenario.
Just days after IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi lamented that Israel was going up against Iran alone, airstrikes rocked several locations belonging to Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, killing dozens.
The airstrikes, which came two days after a barrage of over 30 rockets were fired towards the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk which killed a US civilian contractor and wounding dozens of Iraqi and American troops, were described by the Pentagon as “precision defensive strikes” against the group that "will degrade" the group's ability to carry out future attacks against coalition forces.
The rocket barrage and the subsequent retaliatory strikes in the area of Al-Qaim are the latest peak in tensions between Washington and Tehran. And might have negative effects on Israel, which has been carrying out a war-between-the wars campaign against Iranian entrenchment since 2013.
Situated in Iraq’s restive Anbar province on one side and Syria’ Deir Ezzor province, al-Qaim is an area which is under the control of pro-Iranian Shiite militias who are handled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force.
Only last week Israel’s top military chief publicly admitted to Israeli airstrikes in Iraq, stating that Iran’s Quds force is smuggling advanced weapons in the country on a monthly basis “and we can’t allow that.”
The first strike close to Iraq attributed to Israel was in June of last year near the town of Al-Bukamal, killing 22 members of a Shiite militia. The next month several other blasts rocked Shiite militia warehouses and bases across the country.
Both Israel and the US have warned that Iran and its proxy militias are the biggest threats to peace in the region and hope to weaken Tehran's growing influence across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Iran got away with their attacks, perhaps because there were no American fatalities-until Friday.
“The fact that the US has taken so long to respond to Iranian escalation, and only responded to the loss of life, risks communicating that America’s red line and bar for action against Iran-backed malign activity remains high,”Benham Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told The Jerusalem Post.
“American military power, even when judiciously and narrowly applied, can also signal that Washington can’t be written off permanently from the equation.”
According to Taleblu, while the target following these strikes remains America, “Iran has long engaged in cross-domain escalation, absorbing costs in one area while responding in another.”
And Israel, he added “will need to develop contingencies for what, where, and how Iran-backed militias will respond to these air-strikes.”
So have the rules of the game changed? Is Israel no longer alone in the ring against Iran and its proxy groups?
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