Israeli minister: We’re the ‘only country killing Iranians’
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Israeli minister: We’re the ‘only country killing Iranians’

Tzachi Hanegbi says Tehran understands Jerusalem ‘means business,’ claims no need for concern about ‘cautious’ American response to Gulf crisis

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 3, 2019 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 3, 2019 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted Sunday that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”

Hanegbi, in a radio interview, brushed off concerns when asked whether Israel should be worried about the Trump administration’s “cautious” response to the standoff between Iran and the UK, which, like Israel, is a close ally of Washington.

“For two years now, Israel has been the only country in the world killing Iranians,” the Likud minister said. “We have hit the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes they admit it, sometimes foreign publications expose the matter, sometimes a minister, sometimes the chief of staff. But everything is a coordinated policy.

“The Iranians are very limited in their responses, and it’s not because they do not have the capabilities, but because they understand that Israel means business,” Hanegbi told the Kan public broadcaster. “We are very firm on issues of national security.”

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the only army in the world that is fighting Iran is the Israeli army.”

The Israeli military has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, on targets linked to Iran, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war. Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria.

This undated photo issued July 19, 2019 shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. (Stena Bulk via AP)

Tensions in the Gulf have soared since May, with US President Donald Trump calling off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic Republic downed a US drone.

On Friday, kicking off a tense standoff, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it seized the British-flagged Stena Impero for breaking “international maritime rules” in the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point for around a third of the world’s seaborne oil.

Britain said Iran seized two ships, but the British owner of the Liberian-flagged Mesdar said it had been released after being temporarily boarded by armed personnel.

That came hours after a court in Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized by British authorities two weeks ago on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.

Washington has blamed Iran for multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf.

The escalation comes more than a year after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and began ratcheting up sanctions against Tehran.

Footage Iran says was taken by one of its drones after the US claimed to have brought it down in the Strait of Hormuz, July 19, 2019 (video screenshot)

Earlier this month, Iran exceeded the deal’s caps on uranium enrichment, aiming to pressure the remaining parties to make good on promises to help prop up its economy.

Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if attacked.

The incident came as Trump and American officials insisted, despite denials from Tehran, that the US military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening an American naval vessel in the Strait. Trump said the drone had been threatening amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.

The Revolutionary Guards released footage they said disproved the US claims. The seven-minute video, apparently shot from high altitude, shows a convoy of ships the Guards said they were tracking as they passed through the Strait. The vessels could not be immediately identified, although one resembles the USS Boxer.

As tensions soared, Iran’s archrival Saudi Arabia said it would once again host US troops to boost regional security.

The Pentagon said the deployment “ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.”

The US military also said its patrol aircraft were monitoring the Strait, and announced a “multinational maritime effort” to ensure freedom of navigation in key waterways.

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