Will Iraqi territory be used to fire rockets on Israel from Iran?

Tehran, not Baghdad, will determine whether to launch Iranian rockets stationed in Iraq against Israel, former National Security Council chief Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.

In an article for the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, where he is a fellow, Amidror raised the question of whether Iran will use Iraqi territory to fire rockets on Israel, Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

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While Amidror did not specify whether he believed Iran has moved rockets to Iraq, Reuters reported the weapons transfer took place in late August, drawing swift responses from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Most importantly, Amidror emphasized to the Post that if the report were true, Iraq’s desire not to alienate the US and avoid a superfluous confrontation with Israel would not be the decisive factor.

Rather, he said that Iran would control any weapons systems it had transferred into Iraq, and Tehran had tremendous political influence there.

Amidror also warned Israel needs to be ready to take military risks to prevent Iran from establishing its own forces in Syria, with the accompanying capability of firing rockets at Israel.

On the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, he said the Islamic Republic wants its development so it can deter Israel from interrupting its campaign for regional hegemony, just as South Korea is often threatened by confrontation with North Korea.

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Asked whether an Iranian presence in Syria would be worse than the 120,000 Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon aimed at Israel, he said Iran’s presence would bring things much closer to the North Korean scenario for multiple reasons.

“Hezbollah’s rockets are a problem, but it is a problem which can be dealt with. A new [Iranian] built up ability [in Syria] like this would be much harder to deal with. Consider the vast additional space,” Amidror said, which the IDF might need to cover in order to take out rocket attacks.

He said if Iran had rockets in Syria, it would also greatly increase the quantity of rockets Israel might face in a broad war with Tehran’s proxies.

Further, he said, “In Lebanon, the actor is Hezbollah, not Iran. Here [in Syria] the forces are Iranian,” meaning if Hezbollah can be deterred from conflict with Israel in order not to face a backlash from other Lebanese groups, Iranians in Syria would have no similar brake on their actions.

Amidror said Israel needs to work harder to get the US to throw around its military and diplomatic weight in managing Iran, including in its activities in Syria.

Questioned if he thought further requests to the US would bear fruit when Israel has repeatedly asked for US action on these same issues in the past, Amidror said, “I don’t know if it will work, but we should always try. It is very important to get the US committed” to blocking Tehran from building up its forces in Syria.

In addition, Amidror made reference in his article to claims that Iran has concealed a group of its nuclear scientists from public view so they can continue making progress toward a nuclear weapon.

He said he did not have specific evidence of such a concealed move beyond public source material supporting the claim, but noted, “There was a group of scientists until 2003. Where are they?” One area in which Amidror went against conventional wisdom of many Israeli defense experts was his prediction that Iran may remain in the 2015 nuclear deal until its conclusion, despite the US pressure campaign.

Until the Trump administration pulled the on the grounds that it was tilted toward Iran, many Israeli defense analysts said Iran would stay in the deal. Most now say they expect the Islamic Republic to leave in the next six to 12 months due to the shift in US policy.

Amidror said that no one can know for sure what Iran will do and that perhaps domestic political pressure would force Tehran to exit the deal, but that overall “it is the best deal for them. I would be very surprised if they leave.”

“The logic” behind Iran’s broader goals would be “to stay,” he said.

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