Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon commented Tuesday for the first time on Israel’s reported strikes on sites inside Syria, firmly stating that Israel is determined to protect its citizens and will not accept violation of its sovereignty under any circumstances.
“We have red lines, and we will not give up on them,” Ya’alon said during a visit to Israel’s Southern Command headquarters.
“We do not interfere in the civil war in Syria,” Yaalon further stated. “But we have already made clear what our interests are.”
The defense minister spoke hours after the third errant mortar in two days from Syria hit the Golan area. Though the IDF did not respond to the latest shells, he said it was Israeli policy to fire back immediately if Israel takes fire.
“Syrian firing at Israel will draw an immediate response,” the defense minister said. “The IDF forces out in the field have been instructed that if they encounter fire from across the Syrian border, they do not need permission from me, the chief of staff or the GOC. If they can identify the source of the shootings, they will destroy it.”
He added that the army would work to protect Israel from threats inside Syria and on the border.
“Whether it is the transfer of high-quality weapons to terrorist organizations or violation of our sovereignty across the border, in all these cases we will strive to protect the security of the State of Israel,” he said.
According to unnamed Israeli and American sources, Israeli planes struck sites outside Damascus early Friday and again early Sunday, targeting weapons transfers from Iran to Hezbollah.
Ya’alon did not confirm that Israel was behind the attacks but warned that if Syria should choose to retaliate, Israel would not hesitate to respond with military force.
Though Israel believes Damascus will not retaliate, on Tuesday Syrian media reported that the government had pledged to attack Israel if it is hit again, and had compiled a databank of targets.
On Sunday, an Israeli official told the Los Angeles Times that the strikes were carried out to thwart weapons transfers from Iran to Hezbollah, which would have given the Lebanese terror group a new missile capability.
“We are not taking sides and we’re not interested in interfering in the internal affairs of Syria,” the senior official said. “But we have to make sure these weapons do not fall into the hands of Hezbollah, because the minute that happens it will be hard to track and monitor them. That’s the only reason we interfered. If we don’t take action now, we will be on the receiving end of those missiles. We have to act to guarantee our security, and that applies to Syria and Iran.”
Israel on Sunday deployed two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, in Safed and Haifa, and Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav ordered preparations in his city for the possibility of Syrian retaliation. Israel also briefly closed off its airspace in the north for the first time since the 2006 Lebanon War, halting civilian flights to and from Haifa’s airport.
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