According to a report in Israeli media, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is preparing for a possible strike from “Iran-backed militias” in Iraq and Yemen. The IDF reportedly held talks last week about possible attacks from Iraqi militias and the Houthis in Yemen.
Since Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an apparent Israeli plot, both Israel and the US have been overblowing the threat of possible Iranian retaliation. Israel, like the US, likes to conflate any Shia group in the Middle East with Iran, despite the many different factions and sects.
For example, the Houthis are a Zaydi Shia group and practice a different form of Shiism than the mullahs in Iran. The Houthis are also an entirely homegrown movement and are not the Iranian proxy the US and its allies portray them to be. Zaydi Shia Imams ruled the area of north Yemen the Houthis now control for over 1,000 years until 1962.
While Iran openly supports the Houthis politically, it’s unclear how much military support the Houthis receive from Tehran, if any. Since 2015, the Houthis and Yemen have been under a brutal US-backed Saudi-led siege. Media reports of Houthi attacks inside Saudi Arabia often leave out this context, and Houthi drone attacks are frequently blamed on Iran.
In Iraq, Iran has warned its Shia allies not to provoke the US during the final days of the Trump administration. Demonstrating that not all Shia militias in Iraq are controlled by Iran, some militias rejected the warning, since they have their own nationalist reasons to attack the US.
Over the past year, Israeli airstrikes have been pounding Shia targets in Syria that Israel claims are Iranian-backed. In an interview published last week, IDF Spokesman Hidai Zilberman said Israel had used 500 smart missiles during airstrikes in Syria in 2020. He boasted that neither Iran nor the Syrian government has responded to the Israeli strikes.
Many of the militias Israel targets in Syria also operate in Iraq. In the unlikely case that an attack on Israel comes from Iraq, it could be one of these groups retaliating for years of airstrikes. In 2019, Israeli bombed Iraq, targeting the Popular Mobilization Forces, a group of mostly Shia Iraqi state-sponsored militias that was formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.