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Netanyahu confirms Israel strikes Syria ‘from time to time’

Prime minister acknowledges air force targets weapon transfers en route to Lebanon; hails coordination with Russia

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at 8th Galilee conference, held in the Northern Israeli city of Acre, December 1, 2015. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at 8th Galilee conference, held in the Northern Israeli city of Acre, December 1, 2015. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday acknowledged the Israel Air Force operates in Syria “from time to time” to thwart weapons transfers to Lebanon.

Speaking at the Galilee Conference in Acre, the prime minister praised the Israeli-Russian coordination in Syria, echoing comments from his defense minister in recent days.

“We operate in Syria from time to time to prevent it turning into another front against us. We act, of course, to prevent the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli airstrikes in Syria have been widely reported over the last nearly-five years of the country’s civil war, though officials have refused to confirm them on the record.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on the Golan Heights, northern Israel, June 30, 2015, looking toward Syria. (Eden Moladavski/Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on the Golan Heights, northern Israel, June 30, 2015, looking toward Syria. (Eden Moladavski/Ministry of Defense)

The official acknowledgement of the Israeli strikes in Syria was not a first for the prime minister, who said on November 10 that “if Hezbollah wants to transfer weapons through Syria, we’ll take action, as we have.”

On Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel was “keeping an eye out” for the possibility that Hezbollah has attained chemical weapons in Syria.

Ya’alon was responding to unconfirmed reports that Israel has struck sites in Syria five times in recent weeks, despite the presence of a new Russian missile defense system in the country.

Netanyahu also noted Israel is taking special care to prevent friendly-fire incidents with US-led coalition forces or Russian military units operating in the war-ravaged country.

“I hope Israel and Russia see eye-to-eye on the strategic issues and I want to promise you that we can achieve very good land and air coordination,” he said.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows a general view of damaged buildings wrecked by an Israeli airstrike, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital, as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be on their way to Lebanon's Hezbollah. (Photo credit: AP/SANA)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows a general view of damaged buildings wrecked by an Israeli airstrike, in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital, as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be on their way to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. (Photo credit: AP/SANA)

Netanyahu said he was “very pleased” by the “caution” taken by both armies thus far. “I think this is an indication of openness and of the success of ties between Israel and Russia.”

Ya’alon on Monday insisted that the Russians were aware of what actions in Syria would invite Israeli response and were committed to allowing Israel to take action as necessary.

“We are acting in accordance with needs,” Ya’alon said. “Anyone who infringes on our sovereignty — we act against them. Anyone who attempts to transfer advanced weaponry to terrorist organization, with an emphasis on Hezbollah — we will not allow it.

“We are, of course, keeping an eye out for the possibility that someone has gotten their hands on chemical weapons,” he added.

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