Netanyahu says Iran seeking to fire missiles at Israel from Yemen

Tehran developing ability to accurately hit anywhere in Mideast, prime minister warns visiting US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who vows more economic sanctions on Iranians

Visitors look at a Hoveizeh 8 cruise missile at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019.  (AP/Vahid Salemi)
Visitors look at a Hoveizeh 8 cruise missile at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday that Iran is seeking to develop and deploy guided weapons that can strike any point in the Middle East, including placing them in Yemen to strike Israel.

Netanyahu made the remarks as he met with visiting US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where the two men gave a joint press conference before their talk.

“Iran is seeking to develop now precision-guided munitions, missiles that can hit any target in the Middle East with a circumference of five to ten meters,” Netanyahu said according to an English-language statement from his office. “They are developing this in Iran.”

“They want to place them in Iraq and in Syria, and to convert Lebanon’s arsenal of 130,000 [imprecise] rockets to precision-guided munitions,” he added. “They seek also to develop that, and have already begun to put that in Yemen, with the goal of reaching Israel from there too.”

“Iran is the single greatest threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu warned and called on Washington to impose additional sanctions in order to stop what he called Iran’s “plunge for everything” in the Mideast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

In September a combined cruise missile and drone attack hit Saudi Arabian oil installations.

The attacks, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, damaged a third of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and sent global energy prices soaring. Washington, Riyadh, Berlin, London and Paris blamed Iran for the attacks, which Tehran has denied.

It was not clear what strategic advantage Iran would gain from targeting Israel from Yemen, which is nearly twice as far from the Jewish state as its own soil.

Mnuchin at the meeting pledged to increase economic sanctions against Iran, saying Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” is halting Iranian aggression.

He said American sanctions aim to force Iran to stop “their bad activities and exporting terrorism, looking to create nuclear capabilities, and missiles.”

Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran after last year pulling out of a 2015 seven-nation nuclear deal which offered Iran relief from sanctions in exhange for curbs to its nuclear program. US President Donald Trump said he was withdrawing from the deal because it did not go far enough in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not properly address Iran’s missile development program.

Iran denies it wants to produce nuclear weapons and has also begun to reduce its commitments to the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. As the pact unravels, tensions in the Middle East have risen with unclaimed attacks on oil tankers on the Persian Gulf.

Hoveizeh, Iran’s new cruise missile, is seen during an exhibition in the capital Tehran on February 2, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Last week Israel’s Army Radio reported that Israel was readying for a direct cruise missile or drone strike by Tehran in response to recent attacks on Iranian regional proxies which have been attributed to the Jewish state.

The report cited anonymous Israeli sources who said the IDF was already on high alert for the possibility.

The high-level security cabinet will convene for a special meeting on Tuesday against a backdrop of tensions with the Islamic Republic, the report said.

It would be the second time this month that the body, which must approve major military operations, has convened. On October 6, its members gathered amid cryptic warnings by Israeli leaders of a growing security threat from Iran. That meeting lasted for nearly six hours.

Unlike ballistic missiles, which usually fly through a high arc on the way to the target, cruise missiles and drones fly at low altitude, making them harder to detect.

Iran appears to have been building up its drone activities and attacks in recent months. In August, Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrikes in Syria to thwart a planned attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters using armed drones, the Israel Defense Forces said. The Israeli military said its strike targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives.

Israel has vowed to prevent Iran’s regional proxy militias from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria that it says were to prevent delivery of weapons and to stop Iranian military entrenchment in that country.

Mnuchin is heading a delegation to the Middle East and India to discuss economic ties and counter-terrorism initiatives. He is joined by US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also met with Netanyahu and his key rival, Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz.

Gantz was tasked last week with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to do so in the wake of inconclusive September elections, but his chances of assembling a coalition appeared even slimmer than the incumbent premier’s.

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