PM takes credit for strike on Ira­nian arms in Syria

Ne­tanyahu: We will in­ten­sify at­tacks if nec­es­sary

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By HERB KEINON

After tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity on Sun­day morn­ing for Satur­day’s airstrikes against Ira­nian arms ware­houses at the Da­m­as­cus In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu went a step fur­ther and said that those at­tacks will in­ten­sify if need be.

“In the last 48 hours, Is­rael at­tacked an Ira­nian weapons de­pot at the Da­m­as­cus In­ter­na­tional Air­port, re­flect­ing our con­sis­tent pol­icy and firm de­ter­mi­na­tion to pre­vent Iran’s mil­i­tary buildup in Syria,” Ne­tanyahu said dur­ing a tour of the IDF’s Galilee Divi­sion. “If nec­es­sary, we will in­ten­sify these at­tacks.”

These com­ments came a few hours after Ne­tanyahu did some­thing he has done only very rarely since Is­rael be­gan tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tions in Syria to en­force its red­lines there: pub­licly claim re­spon­si­ble for an at­tack just hours after it took place.

This rare ad­mis­sion came at the open­ing of Sun­day’s weekly cab­i­net meet­ing, with Ne­tanyahu say­ing that the IDF has “suc­ceeded im­pres­sively in stop­ping Iran’s mil­i­tary buildup in Syria – and in this con­text the IDF has at­tacked Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah tar­gets hun­dreds of times.”

His com­ments came after out­go­ing Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in a New York

Times in­ter­view on Satur­day that Is­rael had dropped 2,000 bombs on tar­gets in Syria in 2018 alone.

“We struck thou­sands of tar­gets with­out claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity or ask­ing for credit,” Eisenkot was quoted as say­ing about at­tacks against Iran and its prox­ies in Syria and Le­banon.

“The ac­cu­mu­lated num­ber of re­cent at­tacks proves that we are de­ter­mined more than ever to act against Iran in Syria,” Ne­tanyahu told the cab­i­net.

The Lon­don-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights re­ported on Satur­day that the IAF tar­geted mis­sile de­pots be­long­ing to Hezbol­lah in the al-Ki­wash area near Da­m­as­cus, as well as at the Da­m­as­cus air­port.

Up un­til now, Is­rael has ha­bit­u­ally nei­ther con­firmed nor de­nied re­ports of at­tacks against Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah tar­gets in Syria, not want­ing to in­vite a re­tal­ia­tory re­sponse.

Ne­tanyahu’s de­par­ture from this pol­icy of am­bi­gu­ity brought fire from the op­po­si­tion, which ac­cused him of risk­ing na­tional se­cu­rity for po­lit­i­cal gain, and tied his pub­lic ad­mis­sion of the at­tacks to the up­com­ing elec­tions.

La­bor MK Ayelet Nah­mias-Verbin, a mem­ber of the Knes­set For­eign Af­fairs and De­fense Com­mit­tee, said she

ex­pected the cen­sor to ques­tion Ne­tanyahu about why he broke Is­raeli pol­icy of am­bi­gu­ity and “harmed Is­rael’s se­cu­rity.”

“It is hard to be­lieve that this is not a se­ri­ous cen­sor­ship in­frac­tion,” she said, adding that she ex­pected the cen­sor to warn Ne­tanyahu that he is “harm­ing the army’s ma­neu­ver­abil­ity, pre­fer­ring his own po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est over se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.”

Dur­ing his visit to the Galilee Divi­sion and the area where the IDF has un­cov­ered Hezbol­lah at­tack tun­nels, Ne­tanyahu said that the un­cov­er­ing of the sixth – and long­est – at­tack tun­nel on Sun­day brings Op­er­a­tion North­ern Shield to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion.

But, he said, “We will con­tinue to mon­i­tor all the ac­tiv­i­ties of Hezbol­lah and Iran and its satel­lites, and do what is nec­es­sary to en­sure Is­rael’s se­cu­rity.” He said that the un­cov­er­ing of the at­tack tun­nels was “an ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment” that no other army in the world has yet to pull off.

Ne­tanyahu said that “ev­ery­one un­der­stands that a se­ri­ous threat has been re­moved here. Hezbol­lah’s op­er­a­tional plan was to use the tun­nel weapon to in­fil­trate many fight­ers – be­tween 1,000 and 2,000 ter­ror­ists into the Galilee – to oc­cupy com­mu­ni­ties here. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands what this war would have looked like with Hezbol­lah bat­tal­ions in­side the Galilee, and with the Ira­nian army fac­ing the Golan Heights. We pre­vented this – and we will con­tinue to pre­vent this.”

Ne­tanyahu, in Eisenkot’s farewell meet­ing with the cab­i­net, praised the out­go­ing chief of staff and stressed that the two of them “worked to­gether against the man­u­fac­ture of pre­ci­sion weaponry in Le­banon.”

He also said that the two worked to­gether in dis­man­tling the tun­nel threat from Le­banon, in un­cov­er­ing Ha­mas tun­nels on the Gaza bor­der, thwart­ing hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Judea and Sa­maria, and in “many other ac­tions, both overt and covert.”

“To­day the cab­i­net is part­ing from the chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot,” Ne­tanyahu said. “Gadi, you are fin­ish­ing in two days 40 years of ded­i­cated ser­vice to the IDF and four years as chief of staff. Dur­ing this pe­riod, we worked to­gether against var­i­ous threats to for­tify the se­cu­rity of Is­rael.”

To achieve these goals, he said that “the IDF op­er­ated un­der your com­mand in ex­cep­tional co­op­er­a­tion with all the se­cu­rity branches – the Shin Bet [Is­rael Se­cu­rity Agency], Mos­sad, the po­lice and other bod­ies.” •

(Haim Zach/PMO)

PRIME MIN­IS­TER and De­fense Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu vis­its sol­diers in the North yes­ter­day.

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