In the wake of reports that Israel struck a chemical weapons facility in southern Syria, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi on Thursday warned that Israel was consistently working to combat its enemies “both near and far.”
“We are dealing with these threats, both near and far, with determination and our enemies in every arena know very well the combination of (our) precise intelligence and operational capabilities,” he said at a memorial for former president Chaim Herzog in Tel Aviv.
“The serious security threats against Israel from armed groups are being aided by Iran, which are serious, but not existential threats,” Halevi said. “Iran is working to position itself on our borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, flooding those borders with deadly ideology.”
Early on Thursday morning, the Syrian army confirmed that planes bombed a military site near Masyaf where the regime is said to have stockpiled chemical weapons and missiles. In a statement, the army said the airstrike that killed two people was carried out by Israeli jets, and warned the strike could have “dangerous repercussions.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on any of the reports, but Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman later on Thursday indicated the IDF would take whatever measures were needed to prevent Iran from establishing a Shiite-controlled land corridor stretching from Tehran to Damascus.
“We are not looking for adventures, and we do not wish to be dragged into one conflict or another,” Liberman told the Radius 100FM radio station.
“We are ready and determined to defend ourselves and ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” he added, indicating the Air Force would continue to hit Iran-backed Hezbollah military targets there as necessary. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent a Shiite corridor from Iran to Damascus.”
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott on Thursday also alluded to Israeli military actions in the region aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a foothold along the northern border.
“We are working to strengthen our military capability and improve our existing deterrence,” he said at a memorial for slain soldiers from the Givati Brigade. “At the same time, we are working to thwart with responsibility and determination any threat that seeks to harm our security and prosperity.”
In Germany, President Reuven Rivlin also warned that Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and support of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah could “sink the whole region into war” that would threaten Israel.
Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.
In August a former commander of Israel’s air force said that it had carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah over the past five years. The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed nor denied by the IAF.
The most famous Israeli strike in Syria took place almost exactly 10 years ago, on September 6, 2007, when IAF aircraft bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fray in neighboring Syria, but has repeatedly said it will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapons.
In May, Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.
Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during its last war with Israel in 2006. Since Tuesday, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been staging a mock 10-day war against Hezbollah in northern Israel, marking the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years, the army announced Monday, amid tensions over growing Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report