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'Free hand': Netanyahu suggests Israeli forces may be operating in Iraq

Asked if Israel would hit Iranian targets in Iraq if needed, Netanyahu said: 'We are operating - not just if needed'
Netanyahu's comments do nothing to quell rumours that Israeli forces have been responsible for recent attacks in Iraq (AFP/File photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at possible Israeli involvement in attacks against Iran-backed Shia-militia targets in Iraq.

Netanyahu was asked during an interview with Israeli television Channel 9 broadcast on Thursday whether Israel would operate against Iranian targets in Iraq if needed. 

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"We are operating - not just if needed, we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran's plans," Netanyahu responded, as reported by Reuters news agency. 

Netanyahu did not specify Iraq as one of the areas where Israeli forces were operating, but his comments did nothing to quell rumours that Israeli forces were responsible for several attacks that have taken place in Iraq in recent weeks. 

On Tuesday, a series of blasts hit a position belonging to a Shia paramilitary group near an airbase that hosts US troops and contractors about 80km north of Baghdad. Several people were reported dead.

The blast was the fourth of its type that targeted Hashd al-Shaabi (PMF) militia bases or munitions depots across Iraq over the past month.

Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria, some of them against Iranian targets, to prevent Tehran from establishing a permanent military presence there and to stop advanced weapons reaching its proxies in the area.

Israeli officials have also suggested recently that Iraq, whose main ally is Iran, has become more of a threat in recent years. 

Still, Israeli officials have not directly commented on the attacks against PMF sites in Iraq.

On Wednesday, the PMF said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region and carry out missions on Iraqi territory near positions of US forces. 

The Pentagon denied involvement. The US-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of the Islamic State group, dismissed the statement, Reuters reported. 

As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between the two rival countries, both of which Iraq considers allies. 

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi last week ordered all ammunition dumps belonging to the armed forces or paramilitary groups to be moved outside of cities.

He also cancelled all special flight permissions for Iraqi and foreign aircraft, meaning that defensive departures, including those of the US-led coalition, must be cleared in advance by the prime minister.