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Q&A: Israel's fight against Iran and its proxies

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An Israeli strike in Syria against what it said was an attack plan by an Iranian force came amid allegations it has also targeted sites in Iraq.


In addition to that, claims from Lebanon's Hezbollah that Israel was behind a drone attack on its Beirut stronghold on Sunday has further complicated the situation.


Here are a series of questions and answers:

What happened on Sunday?


Israel announced in the early hours of Sunday that it had struck in Aqraba, Syria to prevent a planned attack with drones carrying explosives on its territory by Iran and pro-Iranian militia fighters.


A war monitor said the air raids southeast of Damascus killed five fighters, including two Hezbollah members and an Iranian.


Iran denied its positions had been hit by the strike.


Later Sunday, Hezbollah, the Lebanese movement backed by Iran, alleged Israel had carried out a drone attack on its Beirut stronghold.

 

Lebanon's army said two Israeli drones had violated Lebanese airspace over Beirut, and Hezbollah said one damaged a media centre it runs in a residential building.


Israel declined to comment on the Beirut allegations.


In a third incident, Iraq's IMIS paramilitary force accused Israel of a drone attack that killed a fighter some 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Iraq's border with Syria.


Israel also did not comment on those allegations.

What has changed?


Iran is Israel's arch-enemy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to stop it from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.


Iran has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's civil war alongside Hezbollah and Russia.


Since the start of the war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.


It however rarely acknowledges them publicly as it did early Sunday.


It was not the first time Israel accused Iran of an attempted drone attack. In February 2018, it said it shot down an Iranian drone that had entered its airspace.


Separately and if confirmed, Israeli strikes in Iraq would constitute an expansion of its campaign against Iran and what it describes as proxy militias.

Why Iraq?


A number of Israeli analysts say it seems Iran has shifted activity to Iraq due to Israel's repeated air strikes in Syria.


Netanyahu has hinted that Israel may be behind at least some of the recent strikes there, warning that "any country that allows its territory to be used for aggression against Israel will face the consequences".


Yaakov Amidror of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a former Israeli national security adviser argued that Israel was justified if it was behind the strikes. 


"Iraq as a sovereign state has to take it into consideration. They became a launching pad and a very pivotal place in the Iranian big plan," said Amidror.


"You cannot be part of the Iranians' plan and Iranian infrastructure and the Iranian machine and stay out of the scene. You are in, so you are in."

Is there a risk of an escalation?


Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said the risks for Israel include soldiers from its ally the United States being targeted in Iraq as revenge for the strikes.


But he added: "I think the Americans are ambivalent. Maybe different parts of the administration have different opinions."


"On the one hand America is in a full confrontation with Iran with a maximum pressure policy," said Yadlin, now of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies. 


But "other parts of the American government can give more weight to the risk to their soldiers".


Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, said he believed the strikes were being coordinated between the United States and Israel as part of efforts to pressure Iran.


But the separate incident in Lebanon could in particular pose a dangerous risk, he said.


"Many people seem to be playing with matches at the most dangerous time," he said.


"Any further similar incident could very well end up triggering a wider confrontation."

Were political considerations involved?


It was not the only time Israel has publicly confirmed a strike in Syria, but it came only weeks ahead of September 17 polls in which Netanyahu is seeking re-election.


Amidror dismissed any suggestion of politics, arguing Israel's military has traditionally not allowed itself to be used in a political campaign.


Yadlin said it seemed the announcement was made to deter the Iranians and as an alert to Israeli forces and civilian bodies to be aware of possible retaliation from Iran.


But he also mentioned the possibility that "somebody thinks that this will help (Netanyahu) politically in the upcoming elections."

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