Israel thwarting precision arms production ‘near and far,’ Netanyahu says

Statement comes day after military said it had bombed 202 sites in Syria over the past 18 months as part of effort to keep Iran from gaining foothold

Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony for the new F-35 Adir stealth fighter jet at the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert on December 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony for the new F-35 Adir stealth fighter jet at the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert on December 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel is working to thwart the production of precision missiles that can be used against the country “both near and far,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, the latest signal from an Israeli leader that Jerusalem may act against Iranian targets far from the border with Syria.

“Israel is determined to prevent Iran and its proxies from establishing a military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“We are taking strong action against these attempts and against the attempts to produce precision weaponry in all sectors, near and far. We will continue to take such action on behalf of the security of Israel,” he said.

The Israeli military on Tuesday acknowledged that it has conducted airstrikes against over 200 Iranian targets in Syria since 2017, shedding light on its largely unacknowledged activities across the border to prevent Tehran from establishing a permanent military presence in the war-torn country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The revelation came as Israeli planes reportedly carried out strikes against Iranian and Assad regime targets in Hama and Tartus, deep inside Syria, according to a war monitor.

A day earlier, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hinted that Israel was not ruling out action against Iranian weapons transfers in Iraq.

According to Haaretz, a military official said Tuesday that the army was aware of Iran transferring weapons into Iraq and from there into Syria.

In Syria, Israel has for years been concerned that Iran was using opportunities presented by the Syrian civil war to entrench itself militarily in the country in order to further threaten the Jewish state — alongside the threat already posed by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon.

Israel has vowed to prevent such a military presence, but officially remains mum on most of the military’s efforts to do so.

The 202 targets hit in the Israeli airstrikes since 2017 were mostly shipments of advanced weaponry, as well as military bases and infrastructure, which the IDF officials said drove Iranian forces to abandon some posts.

In addition, Jerusalem has tried to get the Islamic Republic out of Syrian through diplomatic means by appealing to the two main power-brokers in the region: Russia and the United States.

While Russia does not seem to have accepted Israel’s demand for Iran to be completely removed from Syria, it has agreed to force the Islamic Republic’s forces and proxies to leave the areas closest to the border with Israel.

According to some reports, pro-Iranian forces would be required to stay 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the border; others indicate that range would be set at 80 kilometers (50 miles).

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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