Gallant vows to block Iran, Hezbollah in Syria after alleged Israeli airstrikes

Defense minister says Tehran attempting to make inroads in West Bank, says Israel will push forces out of Syrian territory if necessary

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second from right), during a briefing in the West Bank on April 2, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second from right), during a briefing in the West Bank on April 2, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday warned Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group that Israel would not tolerate any efforts to harm the country or its citizens. The comments came after a series of airstrikes in Syria that the Syrian government attributed to Israel, and a warning from Iran over the attacks.

“We have tensions on all fronts,” Gallant said in a pre-Passover toast with soldiers in the Etzion Brigade in the West Bank, saying Iran was attempting to make inroads into the territory.

“The Iranians are extending their outreach to Judea and Samaria and Gaza, and are attempting to entrench themselves in Syria and Lebanon,” Gallant said. “We will not allow the Iranians and Hezbollah to harm us. We have not allowed it in the past, we won’t allow it now, or anytime in the future.”

“If necessary, we will push them out of Syria to where they belong – and that is Iran,” he said.

Gallant did not mention the fact that he was fired last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — although he has yet to be sent an official letter notifying him of his dismissal, leaving him in limbo, while some in the government are lobbying for his return.

Top security officials have warned that the Netanyahu government’s policies threaten Israel’s security by opening schisms in society that have spread to the military, undermining trust in the government, scrambling security forces’ chain of command, and fraying ties with the US and other allies.

This photo released by ImageSat International on April 2, 2023, shows damage to the al-Dabaa airport in Syria after an airstrike attributed to Israel a day earlier. (ImageSat International)

Also Sunday, an Israeli intelligence and imagery firm, ImageSat International, published images that it said showed damage caused to the Syrian military airport at al-Dabaa near Homs in an alleged airstrike the previous night, the second in two days.

ImageSat said the airstrike likely targeted Iranian-backed Hezbollah drone activity, destroying an aircraft shed, a UAV communication station and a communication vehicle. Syria said five soldiers were injured.

Western intelligence sources told Reuters the strikes hit a series of air bases in central Syria where Iranian personnel are based.

Iran said Sunday that a second member of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had died of injuries sustained in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria on Friday.

“Meqdad Meqdani was wounded during the Zionist attack on Friday dawn and was martyred,” the semi-official Mehr news agency said, adding that he had been a military adviser to the IRGC. Another IRGC adviser, Milad Heydari, was also killed in the strike.

Israeli soldiers on the border between Lebanon and Israel, March 15, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The IRGC has threatened to avenge the incident, saying: “The Zionist regime will undoubtedly receive a response to this crime.”

Some Israeli media outlets reported unattributed assessments that the string of airstrikes in Syria — three in four consecutive nights — could be linked to last month’s suspected Hezbollah bombing near Megiddo in northern Israel, which Jerusalem believes was carried out by a terrorist who crossed the Lebanon border fence using a ladder. One man was seriously wounded in the attack.

While many details of the investigation into the Megiddo bombing are barred from publication, Haaretz cited speculation that the series of airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria could indicate that the IRGC was involved in the latest security incidents.

As a general rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but it has acknowledged conducting hundreds of sorties over the last decade against Iran-backed groups that have been attempting to gain a foothold in the country.

The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

The latest alleged airstrikes came after two attacks in recent weeks against the Aleppo International Airport, also attributed to Israel. Those attacks temporarily closed the airport’s runway. Also this month, Israel carried out a rare daytime strike against targets in northwestern Syria, injuring three soldiers and causing damage, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

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