Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a video clip published Saturday night that Israel would not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria — hours after Arab media reports said Israel carried out strikes on an Iranian military facility near Damascus.
The video was recorded Thursday, before the alleged strike, and is set to air in full on Sunday at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum in Washington, DC. But the Prime Minister’s Office saw fit to put out the short clip relating to Iranian presence in Syria on Saturday evening.
“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy: We will not allow a regime hell-bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state,” said Netanyahu.
Arab media reports widely quoted in Hebrew media said Israel fired missiles at a military base Iran has been building near the Syrian city of al-Qiswa overnight, reportedly destroying an arms depot.
Some media outlets affiliated with the Assad regime and Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah initially reported that Israeli warplanes targeted an ammunition bunker belonging to the Syrian Army. But other media outlets reported that the target was a military base that Iran is building in the area, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Israeli border, and that loud explosions were heard after the attack.
The reports added that Israel fired five missiles. Syrian state media said its air defenses intercepted at least two Israeli missiles fired at a government “military position” in Damascus province, but that the attack still caused damage.
A Sky News Arabic report said that the missiles were fired from within Lebanese airspace.
There was no immediate official Israeli comment. Israel does not, as a rule, comment on reported strikes in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said missiles, presumably Israeli, targeted “positions of the Syrian regime and its allies” southwest of Damascus, destroying “an arms depot.” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said it was not immediately clear whether the warehouse was operated by the Syrian army, Iran, or Hezbollah.
The alleged Israeli attack came three weeks after the BBC reported that Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria just south of Damascus. The British broadcaster commissioned a series of satellite pictures that showed widespread construction at the site.
Israel has long warned that Iran is trying to establish a permanent presence in Syria as part of its efforts to control a land corridor from Iran through to the Mediterranean Sea as it attempts to expand its influence across the Middle East. Netanyahu has said often that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a permanent presence in Syria, and was reported last week to have sent a warning to this effect via a third party to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Agencies contributed to this report.