After Syria strike, Netanyahu says Israel will hit all those who seek to harm it

Without directly addressing the predawn attack, PM says ‘we have a simple rule: If someone tries to attack you – rise up and attack him’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press in his Jerusalem office on April 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press in his Jerusalem office on April 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the country, appearing to indirectly refer to a predawn missile strike on an air base in central Syria that reportedly killed 14 people, which has been blamed on Israel.

Israel refused to comment directly on the attack, after Russia and Syria blamed the Jewish state. NBC News quoted two US officials as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.

Netanyahu, was the southern town of  Sderot during the signing of am agreement on a housing project. Sderot is a frequent target of rockets from nearby Gaza.

“The first thing that is happening here may be summarized in one word – security: Security for Sderot, security for the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, security for the Negev, security for Israel, security in the future,” Netanyahu said.

“We have one clear and simple rule and we seek to express it constantly: if someone tries to attack you – rise up and attack him. We will not allow, here on the Gaza border, them to hurt us. We will hurt them,” he said.

“Security in the present is a necessary condition for security in the future and what we have here today is a powerful expression for our future security,” Netanyahu said, apparently referring to the dual threats Israel faces in the north and in the south.

Earlier Monday Israeli planes carried out airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip, the army said, hours after a group of Palestinians entered Israeli territory from the enclave and planted two improvised explosive devices along the Gaza security fence.

Israel was also accused of carrying out strikes beyond its northern border.

In a rare move, Russia accused Israel earlier Monday of carrying out the strike, as did dictator Bashar Assad’s regime.

“This is a very dangerous development. I hope at least that the US military and those of the countries participating in the coalition led by the United States understand that,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference Monday.

The United States and France officially denied carrying out the strike, which came shortly after both countries threatened to retaliate for a chemical weapons attack, allegedly conducted by Assad in the Syrian town of Douma, late Saturday.

The Kremlin angrily protested that it had not been told in advance of the strike.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that Israel had not spoken to Moscow ahead of the airstrike even though Russian military advisers could have been present at the base, which he described as “a cause for concern for us.”

The target of the reported airstrike was the Tiyas air base — also known as the T-4 air base — outside Palmyra in central Syria. Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.

The Tiyas, or T-4, Air Base, outside of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which Israel claims is being operated by Iran and its Quds Force. (Screen capture/Wikimapia)

According to Russia, the strike was carried out shortly before 4 a.m. Monday by two Israeli F-15 fighter jets. The Russian defense ministry said the Israeli aircraft launched eight missiles at the base from Lebanese airspace, five of which it said were intercepted.

In a statement carried by the official Syrian news agency SANA, however, a military official source said eight of the missiles fired by the Israeli jets were downed by air-defense batteries, though some of them got through. “There are martyrs and wounded,” the source said.

Syrian television showed footage of the alleged Israeli missiles flying through Syrian airspace toward the base.

The Lebanese military reported that, in total, four Israeli warplanes violated its airspace for approximately 10 minutes early Monday morning. This account does not necessarily contradict the Russian claim that two F-15 jets carried out the attack, as it is common for additional fighters to act as escorts for the bombers on such strikes.

Lebanon also reported that Israeli reconnaissance drones had been operating intensively along its Syrian border over the past three days, calling into question the claims that the reported strike was connected to the Douma chemical weapons attack.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, at least 14 people were killed and more were wounded. Iranian nationals were listed among the casualties. Hebrew media reports said four Iranians were reported killed.

Moscow noted that no Russians were injured in the strike.

“According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Air Defense system was deployed from the Mezzeh Air Base after the jets entered Syria from Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley,” Lebanese news site Al-Masdar News reported.

That is the route that Israeli jets generally take before bombing military targets in Syria, according to foreign reports.

Israel conducted an airstrike against the Tiyas base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army.

“Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time.

The location of the T-4 airbase, highlighted in red, that was bombed in the predawn hours of April 9, 2018. Syria and Russia have blamed Israel for the attack. (Joseph Hirsch)

Construction Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of Israel’s security cabinet, would not comment directly on the attack, but reiterated the “red lines” that Jerusalem considers grounds for launching strikes.

“In Syria many forces, from various bodies and coalitions, are operating. Each one says what it says and denies what it denies,” he told Israel Radio. “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also appeared to comment on the reported strike during a meeting in the Knesset, albeit in a roundabout way, saying the allegations indicated that Israel operated without limitation.

“I won’t comment on the security matter being attributed to us, but the fact that this morning they are attributing to us what they are attributing to us shows the independence of Israel in every way. The State of Israel presents an object of admiration for the entire world,” Erdan said, according to Israel Radio.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a long-time advocate of maintaining ambiguity about strikes in foreign countries, told Army Radio that the important thing is for Israel to abide by the “red lines” that it sets for itself, not to advertise its actions.

“There’s no need to run and tell your friends or to take responsibility. Whoever needs to understand will understand,” he said.

Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel staff, and agencies contributed to this report.

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