Attacks on Iran-backed forces: What you need to know

A number of air raids on Iranian-backed militias in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have increased tensions in the Middle East.

A drone controlled by Israeli soldiers trying to intercept Palestinian kites and balloons loaded with flammable materials, is pictured on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Str
A drone controlled by Israeli soldiers [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Since Saturday, a series of attacks have targeted Iranian-backed militias in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, stoking fears of a regional escalation.

The militias, which function as Iranian proxies, have blamed the attacks on Israel, which has stepped up its efforts to curtail the expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East.

On Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran was plotting attacks against Israel and urged the international community to “act immediately so that Iran halts these attacks.”

Here’s what you need to know:


When: Late on Saturday

Israel’s military said it attacked targets in the Aqrabah area near the capital, Damascus, in what it said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone attack on Israel.

The Israeli military said its aircraft had struck “Iranian Quds Force operatives and Shia militias” which were preparing to advance attack plans targeting sites in Israel from within Syria.

The elite Quds Force, which is headed by Major General Qassem Soleimani, is the overseas branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

A senior Revolutionary Guard commander denied Iranian targets had been hit and said its military “advisory centres have not been harmed”.


Lebanon's Hezbollah members hold party flags as they listen to their leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
Lebanon’s Hezbollah members hold party flags as they listen to their leader Hassan Nasrallah addressing his supporters via a screen in al-Ain village [File: Aziz Taher/Reuters]

When: Sunday, Monday

Two drones were spotted flying over the Hezbollah-dominated suburb of Dahyeh in Beirut. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, said on Sunday that the first Israeli drone one crashed over a building housing Hezbollah’s media office, while a second drone exploded in midair, prompting the movement’s leader Hassan Nasrallah to describe the incident as a “suicide mission“.

Nasrallah also said his movement will down any Israeli drone in Lebanon’s skies, and that “the time when Israeli aircraft come and bombard Lebanon is over”.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the two Israeli drones amount to an open attack on the country’s sovereignty.

“The new aggression … constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards further tension,” he said on Sunday.

Referring to the Israeli attack on Syria, Nasrallah in a rare admission said that the target was not a Quds Force position but a house containing Hezbollah fighters – two of who were killed as a result.

He pledged to retaliate against the Israeli attack in Syria, and said there would be an imminent response from Hezbollah against the Israeli army.

Damage and glass from broken windows is seen inside Hezbollah media center after an Israeli drone fell in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs and a second one exploded near the ground in Dahiyeh
Damage and glass from broken windows is seen inside Hezbollah media centre [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement “it is imperative for all to avoid an escalation and abide by relevant Security Council resolutions”.

“The United Nations calls on the parties to exercise maximum restraint both in action and rhetoric.”

On Monday, Lebanese authorities said that Israel attacked a Palestinian base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) at Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.

The three attacks, which occurred only minutes apart near the village of Qusaya in the Bekaa Valley, struck the PFLP-GC base, which is an ally of Hezbollah.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said: “We are a peaceful people and do not want war. We will not accept anyone to threaten us in any way.”

Air raids by Israel against Palestinian factions in Lebanon have been rare in the past years.

There has been no immediate reaction from Israel.


When: Sunday

The Iranian-backed and trained Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) for the first time blamed Israel for an attack on of its arms depots in the Iraqi town of al-Qaim near the country’s western border with Syria.

“As part of the string of Zionist attacks on Iraq, the evil Israeli crows have returned to target the Hash al-Shaabi, this time with two drones inside Iraq territory,” a statement from the PMF said.

The attack, the statement continued, amounts to a declaration of war.

A handout picture released by the Hashed al-Shaabi force shows the wreckage of a vehicle at the site of an unclaimed drone attack near Iraq's western border with Syria on August 25, 2019. Two paramil
A handout picture released by the Hashd al-Shaabi shows the wreckage of a vehicle at the site of an unclaimed drone attack near Iraq’s western border with Syria [Hashd al-Shaabi Media/AFP]

The PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi, is an official arm of the Iraqi security forces that includes brigades who operate on a semi-autonomous basis.

One PMF fighter was killed and another heavily wounded in Sunday’s attack, the group said, adding that the United States was also complicit.

On Monday, the Iraqi presidency said in a statement that the attacks were a “blatant, hostile act that target Iraq,” adding that “Iraqi sovereignty and the wellbeing of its people are a red line.”

Israel did not comment.

Source: Al Jazeera