Israel trying to keep chemical arms from Hezbollah, Liberman says
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Israel trying to keep chemical arms from Hezbollah, Liberman says

Comments follow defense minister's previous statement that terror group was seeking WMDs, after Syria accused Israel of Damascus bombing

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is working to keep chemical weapons out of Hezbollah’s hands, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday, clarifying comments a day earlier that hinted the terror group was attempting to obtain mass-casualty arms.

In a conversation with the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Liberman again seemed to confirm that Israeli forces had been behind two recent strikes inside Syria that had been blamed on the Jewish State.

The defense minister again insisted that Israel has “absolutely no interest” in getting involved in the Syrian civil war, but will work to defend itself.

“Our policies and our positions are very clear and are based on three red lines: We won’t allow any harm to the citizens of the State of Israel, we won’t allow any harm to the sovereignty of the State of Israel and we will not allow the smuggling of high-quality advanced weapons and chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon for Hezbollah,” Liberman said.

The comments echoed a statement he made a day earlier to ambassadors from the European Union addressing recent airstrikes in Syria.

“We are working, first and foremost, to defend the safety of our citizens and to protect our sovereignty, and we are trying to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah,” Liberman told the European ambassadors.

Asked to clarify what weapons of mass destruction were being moved late Wednesday, a defense ministry spokesman said there would be no comment.

In his remarks to the Knesset committee Thursday, Liberman also stressed the Jewish state’s freedom to act, saying the country “makes its decisions absolutely freely, in accordance with the policies I listed” — his “red lines” — “and without considerations for any other circumstances or limitations.”

The comments were apparently an attempt to deny the idea that the presence of the Russian military is preventing or deterring Israel from carrying out strikes in Syria.

On Wednesday morning, a bombing near a Damascus military airport was blamed on Israel.

Screen shot of footage of alleged Israeli missile strike on the Syrian Mazzeh airbase near Damascus on December 7, 2016. (Credit: Twitter)
Screen shot of footage of alleged Israeli missile strike on the Syrian Mazzeh airbase near Damascus on December 7, 2016. (Credit: Twitter)

“At 3:00 a.m., the Israeli enemy fired several surface-to-surface missiles from inside occupied territory,” the Syrian state news agency SANA said, citing a military source. The report said the Israeli missiles caused a large fire but no injuries or deaths.

Last week, Israeli planes also reportedly struck both a weapons site near the Syrian capital and a Hezbollah convoy, causing some large explosions but also no casualties.

Israel generally does not officially admit to carrying out attacks deep inside Syria, though it has publicly maintained it will not allow advanced weapons to be transferred to Hezbollah.

These once regular airstrikes on Hezbollah convoys and Syrian weapons depots have slowed in recent months, with many claiming that Russia’s deployment of the long-range, advanced S-400 missile defense system in western Syria has deterred Israel from carrying out airstrikes in Syria and curbed Israel’s once unquestioned air superiority in the region.

Israeli security officials, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, have dismissed such claims, but few believe that the S-400 has had no effect on Israel’s operations.

An Israel Air Force F-16, December 31, 2015 (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An Israel Air Force F-16, December 31, 2015 (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

A senior air force official, speaking to reporters last month, noted that the Russians’ deployment in Syria represented a “challenge” to the Israeli military, but said the country still operated as needed in the region.

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