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Netanyahu: Air force ‘crucial’ in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions

PM tells visiting military officials that Trump’s hardened position toward Tehran is ‘broadly’ appreciated in Middle East

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Commander of the Israel Air Force's Tel Nof Base Brigadier General Peleg Niego on May 23, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks with Commander of the Israel Air Force's Tel Nof Base Brigadier General Peleg Niego on May 23, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Israeli Air Force’s “crucial role” in efforts to thwart Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and entrench itself in Syria.

“We will not let Iran establish military bases in Syria and we will not let Iran develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told visiting military officials at the International Air Force Commanders Conference on Wednesday. “The Israeli Air Force plays a crucial role in implementing this policy and it has done so consistently and effectively now for the past several years.”

He was apparently alluding to multiple Israeli airstrikes in Syria geared at preventing the shipment of advanced weapons to Terhan’s proxy group Hezbollah. More recently, Israeli forces carried out strikes against Iranian targets in the country, the first ever, amid several direct flareups with the Islamic Republic.

This week, Israel announced that it was the first country in the world to conduct airstrikes with the US-made F-35 stealth fighter jet. In the past, senior Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear installations.

The prime minister also thanked the Trump administration for its dedication to combating Iranian “aggression” in the Middle East, and said the position was widely shared by others in the region.

“Israel deeply appreciates the strong leadership of President Trump and Secretary Pompeo’s 12-point plan to block Iran’s aggression, and I can tell you with confidence that the appreciation that I just expressed is broadly shared by many others in the Middle East,” he said. “This is not just an Israeli position.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, echoed Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran, and threatened further Israeli action against its forces in Syria if it continued to build up its military presence there. Israel has consistently warned that Iran, while helping its ally Bashar Assad fight a longstanding insurgency in Syria, has been working to establish a powerful military presence in the country.

“We have no interest in a confrontation on Syrian soil, but at the same time, we won’t allow Iranian consolidation,” he said while touring an IDF base in the West Bank. “If we see continued attempts to establish itself, we will act again.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Heritage Foundation on May 21, 2018. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Israel’s airstrikes in recent months on Iran-backed military sites, which it rarely admits to openly, have led to increased tensions in the border region and earlier this month saw a barrage of several dozen missiles at northern Israel, apparently fired by Iranian-backed forces, drawing a massive Israeli reprisal attack.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration was preparing to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” on Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic earlier this month, as he laid out a list of demands for a new treaty.

Pompeo outlined 12 conditions that the US considers prerequisites for any firm agreement with Iran, including that it give up ballistic missiles, end support for terror and halt threats against Israel.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in a speech Monday.

A photo provided by the pro-regime Syrian Central Military Media, shows anti-aircraft fire rise into the sky as Israeli missiles hit air defense positions and other military bases around Damascus, Syria, on May 10, 2018, after the Israeli military says Iranian forces launched a rocket barrage against Israeli bases on the Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two to date. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

On Wednesday, Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the Trump administration would work with “as many partners, friends and allies as possible” to address Iran.

Iranian officials widely dismissed Pompeo’s demands and vowed to push ahead with their military programs.

On Wednesday, Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian army, called the US “a criminal and oppressor, isolated and angry with corrupted and oath-breaker leaders who are mercenaries of the Israeli regime.”

Bagheri said the Iranian army was “more prepared than ever and will not wait for the permission or approval of any foreign power to develop defense capabilities,” in an apparent reference to the country’s missile program.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed US charges against Iran as “untrue” and alleged that Pompeo was merely repeating old allegations, “only with a stronger and more indecent tone,” Reuters reported.

“Pompeo and other US officials are trapped in old illusions … They are taken hostage by corrupt pressure groups,” he added in an interview on state television.

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