Netanyahu doubles down on support for ‘moral’ US strike on Syria
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Netanyahu doubles down on support for ‘moral’ US strike on Syria

PM says Israel fully backs missile attacks, which show there is a price to pay for use of chemical weapons; vows to keep helping wounded Syrians

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on April 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on April 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday declared Israel’s full support for a US missile bombardment of a Syrian airbase, saying the military action was morally justified and showed that the use of chemical weapons would incur a cost.

Netanyahu also vowed that Israel will continue to care for Syrians wounded in the country’s civil war as part of its “humanitarian effort” to help the embattled country.

US warships fired 59 cruise missiles early Friday at the Syrian regime-held Shayrat Airfield, north of the capital Damascus, from which Washington believes a deadly suspected chemical weapons attack was launched three days earlier on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in the Idlib province. At least 86 people died in the gas bombing, including 27 children.

The US and other Western powers have blamed the regime of President Bashar Assad for the attack, while Damascus denied it used chemical weapons.

“Israel fully supports the American attack on Syria,” Netanyahu said before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “They did this for moral reasons in light of the difficult scenes from Idlib and also to make it clear that there is a price for using chemical weapons. ”

The missile attack came amid stalled UN talks over a Security Council call for an investigation into Tuesday’s chemical attack, which provoked global outrage.

Results from post-mortems performed on victims point to exposure to the deadly nerve agent sarin, according to Turkish health officials who treated some of the wounded.

Pentagon officials said Tomahawk missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet. The US missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday local time and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.

Russia condemned the move as an act of “aggression.” But there was widespread praise from other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition.

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a Tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)

“There is an international commitment since 2013 to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, and as we saw this undertaking is yet to be realized,” Netanyahu continued in his remarks Sunday, referring to a September 14, 2013, deal between the US and Russia to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of 2014, averting punitive US strikes at the time against the Assad regime.

“We call on the international community to complete the work, and this is an opportunity for US-Russian cooperation in this specific area,” Netanyahu continued. “This task needs to be completed. Israel is treating injured civilians from Syria as part of the humanitarian effort. We will continue to do so.”

Israel says that since 2013, it has quietly treated 3,000 Syrian casualties who were spirited across the border into Israel by the IDF for medical treatment at special field hospitals or in Israeli medical centers.

In a statement released about three hours after the US strike, Netanyahu praised the American move, as did Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the Israeli military.

US military officials said they had forewarned their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces.

Nevertheless, Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned Friday that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the “shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise.”

Trump has advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad’s most powerful military backer. Earlier this month the Trump administration signaled the US was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

US officials portrayed the strikes as an appropriate, measured response and said they did not signal a broader shift in the Trump administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict. But there could be other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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