Netanyahu signals Israel won’t curb activities against Iran, despite Russia row

Speaking at memorial for soldiers who fell in 1973 Yom Kippur War, prime minister says leaders 45 years ago should have launched a preemptive strike

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the state ceremony marking 45 years since the Yom Kippur War, held at the military cemetery at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, on September 20, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the state ceremony marking 45 years since the Yom Kippur War, held at the military cemetery at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, on September 20, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Thursday that Israel would continue to act against Iran, days after the downing of a Russian plane in Syria raised fears that IDF activity in the country could be curtailed.

Israel must “make every effort to prevent war, but if war is forced upon us, we will act will full force against those who are seeking to kill us,” Netanyahu said at a memorial service for Israeli soldiers killed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“In the Middle East, those who are trying to kill us are being led by Iran, which openly and aggressively calls for the destruction of Israel. It is our duty to protect ourselves from this danger, and we will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, according to a statement from his office.

The comments came as Israel continued to deal with the fallout of a Monday night incident in which a Syrian air defense missile shot down a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance plane near the coast of Latakia, Syria, while aiming for an Israeli jet carrying out an airstrike against a Syrian facility.

Moscow blamed Israel for the incident and called it a “provocation,” leading to fears that Russia may no longer allow Israeli planes carte blanche to carry out strikes over Syria. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday absolved Israel of direct responsibility for the incident, in which 15 Russian crew-members also died, but on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry again stepped up criticism of Israel and demanded further investigation.

Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria, most of them aimed at keeping Iran and its proxies from receiving advanced weapons or gaining a foothold in the country.

Russia, which is allied with Iran and the Syrian regime there, has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli activity.

Netanyahu also spoke at length about the failure of the Israeli leadership, in October 1973, to take action to “eliminate the threat.”

“The failing was twofold,” he said. “Firstly the intelligence blindness regarding the Egyptian and Syrian forces preparing for war, with information that was accumulated one piece after another. And then the unwillingness to act immediately and decisively to thwart the threat when the danger was totally clear, at our doorstep.”

Israeli armored vehicles take positions on the Sinai Peninsula during the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973. (Avi Simhoni/Bamahane/Defense Ministry Archives)

Netanyahu said the decision to launch a preemptive attack — a decision the government failed to make in 1973 — was the most difficult decision facing any government. “But with clear knowledge, like in this case, Israel was required to make a preemptive strike to prevent the enemy’s initial success and the many sacrifices that initial success cost us.”

He said that Israel today has learned from the 1973 failures.

“The lessons of the campaign are engraved on us today no less than they were then,” Netanyahu said. “We maintain the security interests of the state with no compromise. We are constantly scanning the horizon to critically assess the dangers that lie in wait for us, and the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Reservist soldiers pose on the top of a truck during the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in the Sinai Peninsula on October 6, 1973. (Avi Simhoni/Bamahane/Defense Ministry Archives)

The Yom Kippur War and the intelligence failures that prevented the military from seeing what was obvious in retrospect remain sore subjects in Israeli public discourse.

Though the Israel Defense Forces was able to repel the invading armies, the eventually triumphant campaign cost over 2,500 Israeli lives and left an enduring scar on the national psyche, prompting Israelis to lose trust in its army and government, and forced the IDF to undergo dramatic changes in its structure and protocols to prevent it from being caught unawares again.

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