Iran fired a salvo of ballistic missiles into Iraq over the weekend, striking what it claims is an Israeli target and leaving some analysts scratching their heads over what exactly led to the explosion and why. why Iraq.
Now, officials said, the attack was retaliation for an earlier secret Israeli air strike on an Iranian drone factory last month. And, according to some, the Israeli intelligence special forces that carried out the strike were based in Iraq.
The tit-for-tat attacks represent an alarming escalation in the protracted shadow war between Israel and Iran, as both sides push the boundaries of a conflict that has dragged on the United States and now Iraq.
For Israel, the attack on Iran’s drone facilities is part of a new approach to countering Iran’s burgeoning drone program, a tacit admission that destroying Pre-killing a drone is easier than intercepting one in flight. Iranian drones have been deployed in numerous attacks against Israel, as well as Saudi Arabiathe United Arab Emirates and, last October, an American base in Syriaaccording to intelligence officials.
For Iran, Sunday’s missile attack in Erbil, Iraq, both reflected a policy of more aggressive response to Israeli attacks and a more open policy: this, a sign of confident that it can do so with impunity. Iran’s use of ballistic missiles instead of missiles or drones is also a serious escalation.
For years, Israel and Iran have engaged in a largely secret war, keeping their actions brief, limited and, if not completely secret, at least denied, in an effort to force to prevent an all-out frontal war that neither side wants. But as recent strikes have demonstrated, each side is willing to test those limits.
And in a sign of the growing reliance on drones, or remotely controlled aircraft, Israel’s attack on Iran’s drone facility last month was carried out. performed by unmanned aircraft.
A senior intelligence official briefed on the operation said that six quadcopter suicide drones exploded at an Iranian facility near Kermanshah, Iran, on February 12. when discussing sensitive intelligence matters said the facility is Iran’s main production base. and storage plants for military drones, and the Israeli attack destroyed dozens of them.
Iranian officials did not confirm that the facility was used for drones, mentioning only that it was the base of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the paramilitary force that carries out many military operations. Iran’s Abroad.
Iran’s drone program is a growing topic of interest for Israeli and US officials, as well as in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. A document compiled by Israeli intelligence lists 15 drone strikes carried out by Iran or its proxies in the region between February 2018 and September 2021.
Israeli military officials say that Israel has been hit by Iranian drones several times. Last year, an Israeli F35 fighter jet intercepted two drones that Israel claims had taken off from Iran, en route to the Gaza Strip to deliver pistols to Hamas, the Islamist militant group it controls. Gaza, the Israeli military said.
US officials say that Iran also supplies drone technology to proxies in Iraq and Syria, who carry out airstrikes against US personnel in those countries with the assistance or direction of Tehran.
Last October, five suicide drones were launched at the US base in Al Tanf, Syria, in what the army’s Central Command called a “deliberate” attack. and coordination”. The attack caused no casualties but the drones were loaded with bullets and shrapnel with “clear killing intent”, a senior US military official said.
US officials say they believe Iran directed and provided local proxies to carry out the attack. in retaliation for Israeli air strikes In Syria, Iran directed a military strike against the United States for the first time in response to an Israeli attack.
The real wake-up call to the threat posed by Iran’s drone program came in 2019, with an impressive pair of accuracy Attacks on two Saudi oil facilities made by a combination of drones and cruise missiles.
That attack and others led Israeli officials to conclude that the best defense against Iranian drones is to attack production sites, according to the senior intelligence official. and storage, like last month’s attack, according to the senior intelligence official.
It is unclear what role the United States played in the February attack. The senior intelligence official said that Israeli officials informed the United States in advance.
Iranian officials have not publicly linked Israel’s attack in Iran to its own in Iraq, but others – including an analyst close to the Revolutionary Guards, an adviser for the Iranian government, an Iranian proxy force in Iraq and a Lebanese television station affiliated with Iran – have said the Iranian attack was retaliation against Israel.
Iran fired more than a dozen missiles on Sunday at a site in Erbil, Iraq, which Iranian officials say is the base for Israeli intelligence operations against Iran.
Erbil is the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. While the Iraqi government has no diplomatic relations with Israel, the Kurdish regional government has a longstanding close relationship with Israel.
“We believe that this building in Erbil is the center for coordination and planning of operations against Iran’s national security and that some malicious activity against Iran has occurred since then,” Hossein Dalirian said. , a prominent defense analyst with the Revolutionary Guard, said in an interview.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday that “Iran will not tolerate a location near its border being used for sabotage and terrorist activities inside Iran.”
Iraqi and Kurdish officials have denied that Israel operates a base there. Israeli officials declined to comment.
A senior US official briefed on the strikes said the building hit in Erbil was once an Israeli training facility and intelligence outpost. However, a senior Biden administration official denied that assessment, saying the administration believes the building that was attacked was a civilian residence and not an Israeli training ground.
The senior US official and another US official confirmed that Israel conducted intelligence operations against Iran from Kurdistan, but declined to cite specific details. Two officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.
In a statement Sunday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the missile hit a residence near the new US Consulate in Erbil, which is under construction. He said that no US facilities were damaged and no US personnel were injured, adding that “we have no indication that the attack was aimed at the US.”
Iranian officials have stated at least once before that they attacked Israeli intelligence bases in Iraq and killed their field personnel. That request could not be verified.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, said in a speech in Karbala, Iraq, on Monday that Iran respects Iraq and considers it a close ally and neither Iraq nor the United States are its targets. attack in Erbil.
However, defense analysts said the strike represented a more aggressive stance against Israel that Iran’s relatively new hardline government has adopted. Officials in the Iranian government have previously proclaimed a strategy of “strategic patience,” at least until the end of Trump’s term in an effort to prevent President Donald Trump from launching an attack. the war he seemed to want to wage.
“Iran’s strategic patience has ended and from now on it will respond to attacks with attacks,” said Gheis Ghoreishi, an analyst close to the government.
Iran is more confident about its regional policies, he said, because it believes the US policy of maximum pressure – the Trump administration’s strategy to intensify sanctions on Iran in an attempt to force it to achieve get a more restrictive nuclear deal – failed.
And as the Biden administration struggles to restore the nuclear deal with Iran, Ghoreishi said, Iran believes Washington does not want another war in the region.
The Revolutionary Guards, he said, have concluded that the most effective way to defend against Israel is to “increase costs” and adopt a policy of “keeping an eye on” strikes and counter-attacks.
Jane Arraf contribution report.