Israel and United States trade blame over Syria border strike
TUNIS - The United States deflected accusations it was responsible for a June 17 strike on an Iraqi militia base in Syria, pointing to Tel Aviv instead. Israel has not commented.
Responding to accusations from Baghdad and Damascus that US jets had carried out the strike, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Agence France-Presse: “We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike.”
An Israeli spokeswoman said only: “We are not commenting on foreign reports.”
The strike on Al-Hari base on Syria’s border with Iraq, a Britain-based monitor said, reportedly killed 52 pro-regime fighters, including at least 20 members of the powerful Iraqi Al-Hashed al-Shaabi military alliance, a paramilitary force understood to be closely aligned with Iran.
The strike came less than 24 hours after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Al-Hashed al-Shaabi initially crossed into Syria to confront the Islamic State (ISIS) and played a crucial role in defeating the ISIS caliphate. However, its continued presence in Syria has given rise to tensions with the United States, which is sponsoring the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, and Israel, which sees the Iraqi militia as evidence of Iranian encroachment.
If American accusations are correct, the June 17 strike would indicate a hardening of Israel’s attitude towards Iranian expansion within Syria.
Though Israeli forces are thought to have been responsible for numerous strikes on Iran-aligned forces in Syria, all have been closer to its own border with Syria. The June 17 strike, however, was on the distant border with Iraq, well beyond what had largely been seen as Israel’s traditional sphere of influence.
Speaking at a Jerusalem cabinet meeting before the attack, Netanyahu said: “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria,” the prime minister said.
Israeli strikes on regime and Iranian positions in Syria have become an increasingly common aspect of Syria’s civil war. Israel launched a large-scale attack in May on what it claimed were Iranian targets in Syria. Israeli officials said the strikes were in response to an Iranian rocket barrage targeting its forces in the occupied Golan.
Prior to that, Israel had been blamed for a series of strikes in Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.