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Iraq slams Israel participation in Gulf naval mission

Iraq has slammed Israel's participation in the US-led Gulf maritime mission, stressing that its involvement will only increase tensions in the region.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim wrote on Twitter yesterday that Iraq "rejects any participation of forces of the Zionist entity [Israel] in any military force to secure passage of ships in the Arabian Gulf."

"All of the Arab Gulf states are able to ensure the safe passage of ships in the Gulf," Al-Hakim stressed, adding that while "Iraq seeks to decrease tensions in our region through quiet negotiations, the existence of Western forces in the region will raise tensions."

This comes after Israel's Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz, last week revealed that Israel would participate in a US-led maritime alliance to secure safe passage of commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route off the coast of Iran.

Speaking at a session of the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Katz explained that he had instructed Israel's Foreign Ministry to work to include Tel Aviv in the mission after a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), during which he met with senior Emirati officials to discuss ever-growing ties between Israel and the Gulf state.

Katz did not elaborate on whether Israel will send naval vessels to take part in the operation or whether it will assist by providing intelligence support.

READ: British warship sets sail for tanker escort mission in Gulf

Iraq's rejection of any Israeli participation in the mission echoes that of Iran, which last week repeatedly slammed Katz's announcement.

On Friday, Iran's Defence Minister Amir Hatami stressed that "the military coalition that America is seeking to form with the excuse of securing maritime transport will only increase insecurity in the region," adding that Israel's involvement would be "highly provocative and [could] have disastrous consequences for the region."

Iran's Foreign Ministry backed the Defence Ministry's position, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi highlighting that any Israeli role in the maritime alliance constituted a "clear threat" to Iran's national security, which it has the right to counter.

Amid the recent escalation of tensions in the Gulf – which has seen US drones alleged to have entered Iranian airspace shot down, multiple international tankers seized by Iran and Iranian tankers seized in the Strait of Gibraltar – Tehran has maintained that the Strait of Hormuz remains its backyard and legitimate sphere of influence.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week said that his country's policy adhered to "a strait for a strait", stressing that "it can't be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us". Rouhani also cautioned against any further escalation in order to avoid the "mother of all wars" with Iran.

READ: 'Security of Strait of Hormuz red line for Iran'

That Iraq has joined criticism of Israel's involvement in the region is likely also a bid to appear tough on Israel, after it was last month revealed that Israeli F-35 fighter jets conducted a number of air strikes against Iranian targets in Iraq throughout July.

These strikes included an attack on 19 July, during which the Iraqi military said an unmanned drone killed one and wounded two Iranians, as well as another strike on Camp Ashraf – 40 kilometres north-east of Iraqi capital Baghdad – in which Iranian military advisers and a ballistic missile shipment allegedly being stored there were targeted.

Though Israel routinely strikes Iranian targets in Syria, its direct targeting of positions on Iraqi soil was seen as an unprecedented escalation of this strategy. Iraq's resounding silence in the face of these revelations raised eyebrows, leading to speculation among Israeli military analysts that behind-the-scenes cooperation between Iraqi and Israeli officials had taken place.

READ: Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate to sack members visiting Israel

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