Iran-Israel conflict spreads in Middle East

Monday saw at least the third Israeli strike on an Iran-related target in as many days, in as many Arab countries, as Israeli warplanes attacked a base belonging to the Popular Front...

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — Monday saw at least the third Israeli strike on an Iran-related target in as many days, in as many Arab countries, as Israeli warplanes attacked a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in eastern Lebanon.

Founded in 1968, following the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, the PFLP-GC then supported Syria during Lebanon’s civil war. The US, UK, and Canada have all designated the PFLP-GC a terrorist group. Currently, it is backed by Syria and Iran, and it has a base in the Bekaa Valley.

Israel’s strike on the PFLP-GC followed an attack Saturday night on a facility just south of Damascus. Israeli military officials explained that their target was a gated villa—with a pool, large garden and a storage room—in which explosive drones were being prepared.

“The attack we thwarted,” Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israeli Chief of Staff, explained, “was an Iranian attack from Syrian territory against the State of Israel.”

“Qasim Soleimani,” head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), “personally drove the terror attack and commanded it,” Kochavi affirmed.

On Sunday, Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanese Hezbollah , denounced Israel's strike in Syria the night before and attributed to Israel responsibility for two drones that fell in southern Beirut earlier on Sunday.

Reporting from Beirut, Arab News, a Saudi-based paper, suggested the first drone may have been a surveillance drone and the second, an armed drone, sent to destroy the first that accidentally crashed. However, the second drone exploded near Hezbollah’s media center, damaging the facility.

In a televised speech, Nasrallah vowed that Lebanon would not allow Israeli strikes, as have been occurring over the past month in Iraq. “There is a scenario in Iraq that started several weeks ago. PMF [Popular Mobilization Forces] storage facilities in different provinces,” he said.

“There was the first explosion, the second explosion, third explosion, the fourth explosion with Israeli insinuating that it takes responsibility and is proud of it,” he continued.

“As for us in Lebanon, we will not allow this type of approach. It is not permissible,” Nasrallah affirmed. “Everything that prevents such an approach, we will do.”

Another strike on Sunday occurred as a drone, apparently Israeli, attacked the convoy of an Iraqi militia—Kata’ib Hezbollah —at al-Qaim, in Anbar Province, near Iraq’s border with Syria, killing a number of militiamen.

Kata’ib Hezbollah is headed by a figure known as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (his real name is Jamal Jafaar al-Ibrahimi.) Born in Basra in 1954, Muhandis was working with Iran already in the 1980s and was involved in the 1983 bombings of the US and French embassies in Kuwait, for which he was convicted in absentia.

In 2009, during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the US designated Kata’ib Hezbollah a terrorist organization for its role in attacking US and other Coalition forces.

“Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is an advisor to Qasim Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Qods Force, the arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for providing material support to Lebanon-based Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command,” the Treasury Department explained, as it formally designated Muhandis a terrorist.

Despite the US position, Muhandis emerged in 2015 as the deputy head of the PMF in Iraq, essentially running the organization from his position as number two.

On Monday, funerals for those killed Sunday in al Qaim were held in Baghdad, precipitating protests against Israel, as well as the US.

The Fatah Coalition, which represents the PMF and is the second-largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament, said it holds the US responsible for the Israeli strikes, “which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people."

Iraqi President Barham Salih chaired a meeting on Monday, attended by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and the Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, as well as most PMF leaders, the Associated Press reported.

Subsequently, they issued a statement that described the drone attacks as a “blatant act of aggression,” without attributing blame to any specific country. However, neither Muhandis, nor Qais al-Khazali, head of another militia closely tied to Tehran, attended. They were in Iran, the Associated Press said.

The Pentagon’s Chief Spokesperson, Jonathan R. Hoffman, responded to the heightened tensions with a statement affirming, “US forces did not conduct the recent attack on a convoy or any recent attacks that resulted in the explosion of ammunition storage facilities in Iraq. Statements to the contrary are false, misleading, and inflammatory.”

Perhaps, most interesting, has been the response of the Iraqi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc commands the largest number of seats in Iraqi’s parliament.

Sadr issued a statement on Monday, saying that he did not believe Israel was behind the attacks, because it knows “an earthquake” would follow. He called on Baghdad to investigate the attacks, perhaps with international assistance.

Above all, Sadr’s statement was a statement in opposition to Iran. He called for the withdrawal of all Iraqi militias from “beloved Syria,” where Tehran is using them to support Syria’s Baathist regime.

Sadr also called for closing all the PMF’s weapons depots in Iraq and turning them over to the Baghdad government.

Editing by Nadia Riva