JERUSALEM — U.S. officials have confirmed that Israel was responsible for the bombing of an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month, an attack that would mark a significant escalation in Israel’s years-long campaign against Iranian military entrenchment across the region.
The confirmation comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is strongly hinting that his country is behind recent airstrikes in Iraq.
Two American officials said Israel carried out an attack on an Iranian weapons depot that killed two Iranian military commanders. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
There have been weeks of speculation in Israel that the army is attacking targets in Iraq.
In an interview with a Russian-language TV station on Thursday, Netanyahu indicated the speculation is true.
“I don’t give Iran immunity anywhere,” he said, accusing the Iranians of trying to establish bases “against us everywhere,” including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.
Asked whether that means Israel is operating in Iraq, Netanyahu said: “We act in many arenas against a country that desires to annihilate us. Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and the instruction to do what is needed to thwart these plans of Iran.”
Early Friday, the New York Times, citing Israeli and U.S. officials, reported that Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Iraq last month.
It would be the first known Israeli airstrike in Iraq since 1981, when Israeli warplanes destroyed a nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein. It also steps up Israel’s campaign against Iranian military involvement across the region.
Israel has previously acknowledged hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian targets in neighboring Syria, primarily arms shipments believed to be destined for Iran’s Hezbollah allies.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow the Iranians, who are supporting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.
Striking Iraq would be far more complicated than reaching neighboring Syria.
The Israeli warplanes would likely have to travel through Turkey, a former ally that now has cool relations with Israel, or through Saudi Arabia, to carry out the strikes on Iraq.
Israel and the Saudis do not have formal diplomatic relations, but are believed to have established a behind-the-scenes alliance based on their shared hostility toward Iran.
By LOLITA BALDOR and JOSEF FEDERMAN Associated Press
Baldor reported from Washington.