Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday that Israel does not want to inflame the six-year long Syrian conflict but vowed that the air force would continue to hit targets there if provoked.
“We are not looking to provoke or to intervene,” Liberman said, referring to a recent airstrike on Syrian territory. “Not in favor of any [side] nor against,” he said in a rare public comment on Israel’s actions in Syria.
Despite the strike Israel carried out, he said, “we have no intention of changing our policy.”
Speaking at a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party, Liberman said that the IDF only carries out raids for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.
Liberman’s comments came after Israeli fighter jets last week were targeted by Syrian surface-to-air missiles following an airstrike on what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was a weapons convoy destined for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
The defense minister did not, however, explicitly signal what the IDF was targeting in the most recent raid, although senior Israeli officials have previously vowed to prevent “game-changing” weapons such as advanced missiles and chemical weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah.
On Sunday, Liberman vowed that Israel would destroy Syrian air-defense systems if they again fire on Israeli jets.
“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Lieberman said on Israel Radio.
An Israeli army statement said “several anti-aircraft missiles” were fired following the raid but that none hit their targets.
One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.
Israel does not usually confirm or deny individual raids, but it may have been led to do so this time by the circumstances of the incident.