Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday praised as “important” the series of US airstrikes a day earlier against an Iranian proxy group that had carried out an attack on American forces in Iraq.
Speaking on the phone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu “congratulated him on the important US action against Iran and its proxies in the region,” according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The US carried out airstrikes against Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Battalion) in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, killing 25 fighters, two days after a barrage of 30 or more rockets was fired at the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad, killing a US civilian contractor and wounding four US service members as well as Iraqi security forces.
It was the first known US attack on an Iranian proxy in Iraq since 2011.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Sunday welcomed the strike, saying it was a “turning point in the regional response to Iran & its proxies” and asserting that “if Iran fails to understand the power of the US they will be making a big mistake.”
Tehran “strongly condemned” Washington for engaging in what it described as a clear example of “terrorism.”
“With these attacks, the United States has shown its strong support for terrorism, disregarding the independence and sovereignty of countries, and must accept responsibility for the consequences of this illegal act,” state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
Russia’s foreign ministry called the “exchange of strikes” between Kataeb Hezbollah and US forces in Iraq “unacceptable,” and called for restraint from both sides.
“We consider such actions unacceptable and counterproductive. We call upon all parties to refrain from further actions that could sharply destabilize the military-political situation in Iraq, Syria, and the neighboring countries,” a ministry statement said.
A Pentagon spokesman said in a statement on Sunday, “In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host… coalition forces, US forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria.”
The strikes against three locations in Iraq and two in Syria “will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks” against coalition forces, the statement added.
“KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack” coalition forces, the Pentagon said, referring to the external arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Kataeb Hezbollah is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful men. In 2009, the US State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, designated a foreign terrorist organization by US President Donald Trump earlier this year.
On Monday, Kataeb Hezbollah said that the death toll from the US strikes in Iraq and Syria against its fighters had risen to 25, vowing to exact revenge for the “aggression of evil American ravens.”
“Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities,” it said in a statement. “We have no alternative today other than confrontation and there is nothing that will prevent us from responding to this crime.”
Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group also blasted the “brutal American aggression,” saying those who took the decision to carry out the attack “will soon discover how stupid this criminal decision was.”
Speaking in Florida on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he, Pompeo, and Joint Chiefs chairman General Mark Milley had discussed “other options that are available” to respond to Iran with Trump.
“We will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran,” he declared.
Pompeo said the “decisive response” made clear that the US ”will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”