Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly conveyed to Iran a warning via European leaders before this weekend’s flare-up, which saw Israel down an Iranian drone after it entered Israeli airspace from Syrian territory, Israeli air strikes in Syria, and Syrian anti-aircraft fire cause the crash of an Israeli F-16.
According to European officials who spoke with Channel 10 news, Netanyahu spoke a number of times in recent weeks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, warning them of the Islamic Republic’s aggression in the region, and particularly its manufacturing of ballistic missiles in Lebanon.
Netanyahu met in-person with Macron and Merkel while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, and reportedly gave them a message to pass on to Tehran.
In those conversations, Netanyahu relayed that Israel preferred a diplomatic solution to the problem, but that if that did not work, it would be forced to use military means, Channel 10 reported on Sunday.
France, the UK, and Germany conveyed the Israeli warnings to Iranian officials close to President Hassan Rouhani.
“We raised the issue with Rouhani’s people and told them that it was important for us to convey the information because perhaps President Rouhani is not aware of everything that the Revolutionary Guards are doing in Syria and Lebanon,” one European official was quoted as saying in the report.
The official said that his Iranian counterparts took note of the warning, but did not respond.
Two of the four diplomats that spoke with Channel 10 expressed skepticism over the accuracy of Netanyahu’s claims regarding the ongoing construction of an Iranian missile factory in Lebanon, but they passed along the prime minister’s message nonetheless.
Over the past year, Israel has warned against Iranian efforts to set up such weapons production facilities in Lebanon, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman telling United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres during an August visit to Israel that Iran is “working to set up factories to manufacture accurate weapons within Lebanon itself.”
Israel has also warned against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, as well as the establishment of missile factories there and the transfer of advanced weapons through that country to Hezbollah. In recent years, dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys bound for Lebanon have been attributed to Israel by foreign media reports.
Hezbollah, which has long targeted Israel and Jews worldwide, is currently fighting in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a fellow Iran ally. The Lebanese terror group has also been accused of assisting Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen.
However, Israel and Iran had never clashed directly and openly in Syria. That changed on Saturday morning, when an Iranian drone, piloted by an Iranian operator, entered northern Israeli airspace near the Jordanian border, where it was shot down by an Apache attack helicopter.
Israeli jets then conducted a series of reprisal raids against military positions in Syria, during which one F-16 was apparently hit by shrapnel from an exploding Syrian anti-aircraft missile, and crashed in northern Israel.
The two airmen inside it ejected from the plane. The pilot was seriously wounded, but over the course of Saturday and Sunday, his condition improved, his doctors said. The navigator sustained light injuries and was released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon.
In response, the Israeli Air Force carried out a second round of strikes shortly before 9 a.m. on Saturday, again facing a massive barrage of anti-aircraft fire, which included dozens of Russian-made air defense missiles, the army said.