Israel on Saturday said that the combined US, British and French strikes on Syria were an “appropriate” response to the alleged chemical gas attack and warned that Damascus’s actions put it in danger of further strikes, including against its leadership.
“Last year, [US] President [Donald] Trump made it clear that using chemical weapons crossed a red line. Tonight, led by the Americans, the US, France and Britain acted appropriately,” said a statement attributed to an unnamed official in Jerusalem.
“Syria continues to carry out murderous actions and to be a base for these and other actions, including by Iran, that puts its territory, forces and leadership in danger,” the terse statement said.
Israel was informed ahead of the strikes, sources said.
“The American strike is an important signal to the axis of evil — Iran, Syria and Hezbollah,” tweeted housing minister Yoav Galant. “The use of chemical weapons crosses a red line that humanity is no longer willing to accept,” said Galant, who is a member of the security cabinet and a former general.
The strikes occurred early Saturday morning, the Sabbath in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu generally refrains from putting out official statements in his name on the Jewish day of rest.
The Israeli statement came just hours after Trump announced that a joint US-British-French operation had been launched on Syria, targeting the “criminal” regime of Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.
Loud explosions lit up the skies over the Syrian capital as Trump announced the airstrikes.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said in a primetime televised address to the nation.
“A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
General Joseph Dunford, Washington’s top general, said the precision strikes hit a scientific research center near Damascus, a storage facility and command post also near the capital and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs. He said Syrian surface to air missile batteries had attempted to fire back, but there were no initial reports of any allied losses.
Trump said the US was prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.
“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.
Later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no additional strikes on Syria were planned. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he said.
But while the Israeli statement came following the strike on the chemical weapons facilities, its mention of Iran’s continued attempts to entrench itself in Syria reflected Israel’s primary concern.
Israel revealed on Friday that an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace in February was carrying explosives. The drone was launched from an airbase in Syria. That base was attacked on Monday, allegedly by Israel, in a strike that reportedly targeted Iran’s entire attack drone weapons system — prompting soaring tensions between Israel and Iran.
The Iranian drone shot down in February was carrying enough explosives to cause damage, military sources said. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, they said.
The February incident marked an unprecedented direct Iranian attack on Israel. Israel’s acknowledgement of the nature of the drone’s mission “brings the confrontation” between Israel and Iran “into the open” for the first time, Israel’s Channel 10 news noted Friday.
Netanyahu used a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day this week to warn Iran: “Don’t test the resolve of the State of Israel.”
The alleged Israeli attack this week on the base from which the drone was dispatched is understood to have targeted Iran’s entire drone weapons system at the Syrian base, which was protected by surface-to-air missiles and other defenses, the TV report said.
“This was a harsh blow” to the Iranians, it added. “It is clear they will react.”
Immediately after shooting down the Iranian drone on February 10, Israel carried out airstrikes against a number of Iranian targets in Syria, including on the T-4 base in central Syria where the Iranian operator of the drone was located.
During the aerial raids, an Israeli F-16 was downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, crashing to earth in Israel, prompting further Israeli retaliatory raid against Syria’s anti-aircraft systems. Both the Israeli pilots ejected.