Israel congratulates US on strikes against Kataib Hezbollah militia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to congratulate him on the Sunday (December 29) U.S. military attack on Iran and its proxies in Iraq.

After proclaiming the mission a success, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that “the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq, by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kataib Hezbollah, which is in an Iranian sponsored Shiite militia group.”

The top U.S. defense official then specified that precision defensive strikes were launched against “three targets in western Iraq and two targets in eastern Syria, that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kataib Hezbollah.” Esper warned that “additional actions” may still be taken in the region to defend U.S. interests, and said he and other officials have discussed “other options” with U.S. President Donald Trump, “as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran.”

According to the Pentagon, the targeted locations included weapons storage facilities and command and control sites used for the planning and execution of attacks on coalition forces. Washington has accused Kataib Hezbollah of carrying out a strike involving more than 30 rockets on Friday (December 27), which killed an American civilian contractor, while injuring four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq, and warned the Islamic Republic that any attacks by Tehran or its proxies that harmed Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response.”

“This has been going on now for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Pompeo said, after briefing U.S. President Donald Trump on “activities that have taken place in the Middle East over the course of the last 72 hours,” alongside Secretary Asper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. The U.S. Secretary of State went on to emphasize that Friday’s deadly assault by the Kataib Hezbollah “wasn’t the first set of attacks against this particular Iraqi facility and others, where there are American lives at risk,” adding that “what we did was take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months – which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”“We will always honor that commitment to take decisive action when that takes place,” said Pompeo.

In a threat leveled directly at Tehran, the top American diplomat stated “And we continue to demand that the Islamic Republic of Iran act in a way that is consistent with what I laid out back in May of 201 – for what it is that we expect Iran to do, so that it can rejoin the community of nations.”

A top Kataib Hezbollah leader in Iraq confirmed at least 25 fighters were killed in one of the U.S. strikes against the militia group’s headquarters near the western Qaim district on the border with Syria, including four commanders. In a pat response to Reuters, the unnamed militant blamed the Jewish State, saying ”Curses be upon Israel.” He then warned U.S. forces in Iraq to expect further retribution from the Iranian-backed group, vowing, “We will never abandon the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces, or paramilitary forces) even if we lose 100, 1000, 2000 fighters. We are steadfast. We will remain on borders, God willing.”

Tensions have escalated between Baghdad’s two main allies, Tehran and Washington, since Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.  Meanwhile, the air strikes come as thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations to condemn militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, among other issues.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the U.S. strikes as “unacceptable.” He accused Americans of operating “under a pretext of defending their rights” to “drown people of Iraq and Syria in blood,” despite being “thousand miles away from their [own] borders.”

Zarif made the statements after holding a meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Contrary to the United States, he said “Iran and Russia put efforts to establish peace both in Syria and in Iraq.”