DAMASCUS, Syria — A top Iranian official visiting Damascus on Monday said Israel will regret its “latest aggression” on Syria and said the entire Muslim world should be ready to defend the Syrian people.
Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, also said Iran supports any initiative for dialogue between President Bashar Assad and his opponents to end the civil war in Syria, but insisted that any talks be held in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Jalili spoke to reporters at a news conference in Damascus at the end of a three-day visit to Syria.
“Just as it regretted its aggressions after the 33-day, 22-day and eight-day wars, today the Zionist entity will regret the aggression it launched against Syria,” Jalili said, referring to past wars between Israel and the Lebanese militant Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas groups.
Israeli warplanes struck a site near the Syrian capital, Damascus, last week, targeting what US officials said were ground-to-air missiles apparently heading for Hezbollah.
Syria said the strike targeted a military research facility and vowed retaliation, but has so far refrained from any response.
Syria’s defense minister said earlier Sunday his country had no need to respond militarily to the airstrike, since the Israeli attack was itself a retaliation. Israel, he claimed, was hitting back against the regime for its successes in the ongoing battle against what he said were Israel-backed Syrian rebels.
“It was the Israeli enemy that was retaliating” by carrying out the strike, said Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij in an interview on Syrian state TV. “It was retaliating for our military operations against the armed gangs.”
Israel has been bracing for a possible Syrian response to the strike, but has not formally taken responsibility for it. On Sunday morning, Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel was involved, however, and Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, said at the weekend that Israel was responsible. In 2007, Israel reportedly blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor, but never acknowledged responsibility, and Syria did not respond.
The former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, for his part, said Monday that the apparent lack of a response so far from the Syrians and their proxy Hezbollah was no indication that there would be no retaliation in the future. Rather, they will choose to take action in a limited, symbolic way, he posited, “in nations across the sea, or by firing rockets with no one taking responsibility.”
During the 22 months of civil war in Syria, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that high-end weapons could fall into the hands of its enemy Hezbollah.
For years, Israel has been charging that Assad and Iran have been arming Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war against Israel in 2006.
US officials say the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Deployed in Lebanon, they could have limited Israel’s ability to gather intelligence on its enemies from the air.
Over the weekend, Syrian TV broadcast video of Wednesday’s attack site for the first time, showing destroyed vehicles and a damaged building identified as a scientific research center. The US officials said the airstrike hit both the building and the convoy.
Iran is Syria’s closest regional ally and Jalili pledged his country’s continued support for Assad’s regime.
“The Islamic world will not allow aggression against Syria,” Jalili said. “Syria stands on the front line of the Islamic world against the Zionist regime … The Islamic world must show due reaction to the Israeli aggression.”
Jalili, however, did not say how Israel would regret its attack or how the Islamic world will defend Syria.
He welcomed comments by the head of the Syrian main opposition group, Mouaz al-Khatib, without naming him, in which he expressed readiness to talk to the regime if that would help end the bloodshed. Al-Khatib has said he is ready to talk with the regime in “Egypt, Turkey or Tunisia.”
“We’ve said from the start of the Syrian crisis that the only thing that can help resolve the crisis is national dialogue in Syria,” Jalili said.
“We’ve said that terrorism and violent behaviors and killing innocent people cannot be a step towards defending the rights of the Syrian people,” he added.