Israel launched air strikes across the Middle East last weekend and early this week, ramping up the threat of a devastating war with Iran.
Israeli drones and warplanes attacked sites in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, targeting groups and militias linked to Iran.
Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun said drone attacks on capital city Beirut were like “a declaration of war.” And a coalition of politicians in Iraq said a similar strike there was “a declaration of war on Iraq and its people”.
Israel launched its offensive late on Saturday night with a strike on a military base in neighbouring Syria, close to the capital Damascus.
It said the strike, which killed five people, targeted the Iranian military group the Revolutionary Guards Corp.
Then, on Sunday, the Lebanese government claimed that two Israeli drones attacked a site in the south of Beirut. The attack was aimed at Hizbollah, an armed political movement in Lebanon supported by Iran.
A further attack apparently targeted a Palestinian group allied to Hizbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command.
Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said the attack was “a very, very dangerous development,” and threatened to retaliate. He added that it was Israel’s biggest attack since it invaded Lebanon in 2006.
An Israeli drone attack in Iraq, also on Sunday, targeted armed groups represented in the Iraqi parliament and supported by Iran.
Israel has launched hundreds of attacks against Iranian-backed forces in Syria and, increasingly, Iraq. But the latest strikes appear to mark an escalation.
Whereas Israel normally denies responsibility for specific attacks, this time prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu boasted about his military success. “Iran has no immunity anywhere,” Netanyahu said. “Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression. I have directed that our forces be prepared for any scenario.
“We will continue to take determined and responsible action against Iran and its proxies for the security of Israel.”
Netanyahu will hope that the attacks benefit him in upcoming Israeli elections, set to take place on 17 September. He often relies on his reputation as a defender of Israel’s “security” against Iran, as well as against Palestinians.
But the attacks are really about a bigger struggle between Iran and the US. They come in the wake of threats and increased aggression against Iran by Donald Trump.
Trump sees the growth of Iran’s political and military power in Iraq and Syria as a threat to the US’s dominance in the Middle East. He wants the US’s allies in the Middle East to confront Iran on his behalf.
Israel stepped up its attacks on Iranian forces in Syria after Trump began withdrawing US troops from the country in December last year.
It has more recently said it would “extend” its attacks to forces in Iraq.
These latest strikes show how that struggle to control the Middle East could throw the whole region into war.