Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday painted a picture of close Israeli-American cooperation in efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, saying US President Donald Trump “is acting against Iran at the economic level and we here in Israel are acting against Iran at the military level.”
In an address to IDF cadets at Bar Ilan University, Netanyahu said he had “insisted” the US re-impose sanctions on Iran following Washington’s exit from the international nuclear accord last year, and that the US president “indeed made the courageous decision to renew them.”
He said Israel was “surrounded by enemies on a couple of fronts,” and it was “acting determinedly against anyone seeking to endanger us.”
Netanyahu specifically noted Israel’s ongoing military campaigns to thwart Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and its actions against cross-border attack tunnels dug by terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas — both supported by Tehran.
Netanyahu’s comments came a day after Trump said Iran “can do what they want” in Syria following his decision to withdraw US troops operating there, a move that sparked consternation in Israel.
US soldiers have been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart the establishment of permanent Iranian military infrastructure in Syria.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to restore the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israeli officials have also warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.
Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.
Yet Trump on Wednesday said at a cabinet meeting that Tehran, like the US, was withdrawing its forces from Syria, crediting his decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.
The American president said that in pulling out of the international accord last year, Washington had successfully changed Tehran’s calculus and stymied its efforts to destabilize the region.
“Iran is no longer the same country,” he said. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”
Trump’s abrupt decision to pull America’s 2,000 troops from Syria stunned regional players, US politicians, and military leaders, who expressed surprise that such a major decision would be announced after apparently so little advance consultation, against the advice of his national security advisers. His secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned over the withdrawal.
The move also was the first significant point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem since he took office — Netanyahu reportedly pleaded with him to rethink the decision — and has fortified the perception that he views the US relationship with Israel as transactional.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Netanyahu the planned withdrawal of ground forces from Syria would not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.
“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu before they held talks in Brazil.
On Thursday, Pompeo warned Iran against a planned rocket launch linked to its space program, saying the US would “not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk.”
In a statement released by the State Department, Pompeo said the rockets due to launch in the coming months incorporated technology that was “virtually identical” to that used in ballistic missiles, and was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2331.
Pompeo raised the specter of further US sanctions, urging “the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”