Israel has threatened to attack any Iranian military assets in Iraq as it has done in Syria, following reports Tehran has moved ballistic missiles closer to the Jewish state.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, signalled on Monday it would “contend” with Iranian provocations wherever they are found.
“We are certainly monitoring everything that is happening in Syria, and regarding Iranian threats we are not limiting ourselves just to Syrian territory. This also needs to be clear,” Mr Lieberman told a conference in Jerusalem.
Asked if this included Iraq, he responded: “I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn’t matter from where it comes … Israel’s freed.”
Tehran has transferred dozens of short-range ballistic missiles to Shia proxies in Iraq over the last few months, according to a Reuters report published over the weekend.
The Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles in question have ranges of 400 miles, putting Tel Aviv within striking distance if the weapons were deployed in southern or western Iraq.
The Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has bases in both those areas.
“It seems Iran has been turning Iraq into its forward missile base,” one Western source said.
Israel is technically at war with Iraq, but the two countries have not openly traded blows for decades.
Israel has however conducted hundreds of air strikes against arms transfers and deployments by Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Shia Hizbollah militia, fearing the threat across its border.
Israeli officials will also be watching political developments in Baghdad with concern.
After months of wrangling, two blocs on Monday claimed to hold the majority of seats in parliament and therefore the right to name a prime minister.
The bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has the support of the US, while the bloc of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Badr Organisation militia leader Hadi al-Amiri is backed by Iran.
Badr is part of the state apparatus and answers to Iraq’s prime minister, but Mr Amiri and other members of the group’s leadership frequently meet and consult with Qassem Soleimani, Quds Force commander.
A Maliki-Amiri coalition would likely lead Iraq to greater hostilities with Israel.
The Kurds, a minority in Iraq, have yet to pick a side but could end up kingmakers. Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Isil, has been trying to convince the various Kurdish parties to fall in line behind Mr Abadi.
Phillip Smyth, Soref fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Telegraph the Israelis “won’t want to see another Iranian-controlled government spring up.”
“I’d also bet this would worry them more if that also means there’s the possibility of continued and more advanced weapons transfers,” he said.
Richard Baffa, senior defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, warned that escalating tensions between Israeli and Iranian forces have demonstrably increased the risk of a new, large-scale regional conflict.
“Tehran’s continued provocations and violations of Israel’s stated red lines are fueling an escalatory spiral that has the potential to rapidly spin out of control,” he wrote.