Is­rael con­firms airstrikes on sev­eral tar­gets in Syria

The Bradenton Herald - - Nation & World - BY ARON HELLER

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on Sun­day con­firmed that Is­rael has struck hun­dreds of Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah tar­gets in Syria, in­clud­ing a weapons fa­cil­ity in a week­end airstrike, as the mil­i­tary an­nounced the dis­cov­ery of a sixth and fi­nal tun­nel dug by the Le­banese mil­i­tant group for cross-bor­der at­tacks.

The state­ments marked a rare, pub­lic ac­knowl­edg­ment of Is­raeli at­tacks against Hezbol­lah and its pa­tron Iran in neigh­bor­ing Syria, where Is­rael is long be­lieved to have tar­geted Ira­nian weapons ship­ments to the Le­banese Shi­ite group.

How­ever, Is­rael has un­til now gen­er­ally re­frained from com­ment­ing about the strikes for fear of trig­ger­ing a re­ac­tion and be­ing drawn into the deadly fight­ing in neigh­bor­ing Syria’s civil war.

At his weekly Cab­i­net meet­ing, Ne­tanyahu pub­licly con­firmed the strike as he thanked out­go­ing mil­i­tary chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for long years of ser­vice and par­tic­u­larly his mar­shalling of Is­rael’s shad­owy cam­paign against Iran in re­cent years.

“We have op­er­ated with im­pres­sive suc­cess in thwart­ing Iran from es­tab­lish­ing a mil­i­tary foothold in Syria, in the frame­work of which the mil­i­tary has struck hun­dreds of times against Ira­nian and Hezbol­lah tar­gets,” Ne­tanyahu said. “In the last 36 hours alone, the air force struck stor­age fa­cil­i­ties with Ira­nian weapons at the Damascus In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The bulk of re­cent at­tacks show how we are more com­mit­ted than ever to act against Iran in Syria, as we promised.”

Cou­pled with the an­nounce­ment that af­ter Sun­day’s dis­cov­ery, Is­rael was wrap­ping up its op­er­a­tion to de­stroy Hezbol­lah’s tun­nel net­work into Is­rael, the week­end strike in Syria is widely seen as Eisenkot’s “part­ing shot” as his four-year ten­ure as mil­i­tary chief ends. He will be re­placed on Tues­day by Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

Af­ter keep­ing a low­pro­file through­out most of his term, Eisenkot gave a se­ries on in­ter­views over the week­end fo­cus­ing on his shift­ing the mil­i­tary’s at­ten­tion to­ward Iran di­rectly, in­stead of just en­gag­ing its lesser prox­ies, Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas in Gaza. In a New York Times in­ter­view pub­lished Fri­day, Eisenkot said that Is­rael “has struck thou­sands of tar­gets with­out claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity or ask­ing for credit” as part of his show­down with Qas­sim Suleimani, the com­man­der of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Eisenkot also re­vealed the gov­ern­ment ap­proved his shift in strat­egy in Jan­uary 2017, step­ping up airstrikes in Syria. In 2018 alone, he said Is­rael’s air force dropped 2,000 bombs in Syria.

A far more vis­i­ble part of his legacy has been the re­cent Le­banese bor­der op­er­a­tion, which the mil­i­tary said thwarted Hezbol­lah’s prime strate­gic in­vest­ment for its next po­ten­tial war.

Mil­i­tary spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Con­ri­cus said Sun­day the fi­nal tun­nel was the largest dis­cov­ered so far, run­ning hun­dreds of me­ters (yards) from un­der a Le­banese home and deep into Is­raeli ter­ri­tory. Is­rael launched “Op­er­a­tion North­ern Shield” early last month to de­tect and de­stroy what it called a vast net­work of Hezbol­lah tun­nels aimed for mil­i­tants to sneak across the bor­der, cap­ture ter­ri­tory and stage dev­as­tat­ing at­tacks.

Con­ri­cus said the lat­est tun­nel orig­i­nated from the Le­banese bor­der town of Ramyeh, was 55 me­ters deep and ran 800 me­ters in­side Le­banese ter­ri­tory and also “dozens” of me­ters into Is­rael.

SE­BAS­TIAN SCHEINER AP file

Is­raeli sol­diers stand around the open­ing of a hole that leads to a tun­nel that the army says crosses from Le­banon to Is­rael, near Me­tula on Dec. 19. The Is­rael mil­i­tary says it has un­cov­ered the sixth and fi­nal Hezbol­lah at­tack tun­nel from Le­banon.

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