Netanyahu: We’ll continue to halt Syrian arms transfers

With northern border heating up, prime minister says Israel ‘has acted responsibly’ and is undeterred by Assad’s bluster

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu (center), arriving at a cabinet meeting in March. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (center), arriving at a cabinet meeting in March. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid escalating rhetoric between Jerusalem and Damascus in the wake of reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday to continue to act to prevent advanced weaponry from being transferred to Lebanese terror group Hezbollah via Syria.

“The Israeli government has acted responsibly and prudently to ensure the security of Israeli citizens and to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah and [other] terrorist organizations… and we will do so in the future,” Netanyahu said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“The Middle East is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades, primarily Syria,” the prime minister added. “We are monitoring the changes there closely and are prepared for any scenario.”

On Sunday, the Times of London reported that Syria had trained long-range missiles on Tel Aviv, to be used if Israel violates Syrian territory. Israeli jets reportedly struck sites near Damascus twice earlier in May, aiming to stop the transfer of advanced Fateh-110 missiles to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Netanyahu’s remarks came after several days of increased tension between Israel and Syria. On Saturday, Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel of backing and providing support to rebel factions, contradicting top defense official Amos Gilad, who on Friday stated that Israel was not seeking to topple Assad.

Israel, which never officially took responsibility for the airstrikes, has said it will continue to act to stop weapons transfers, and unnamed Israeli officials last week reportedly threatened to topple the regime in Damascus should Assad hit Israel in response to any future strikes. Syria, for its part, has warned that it would retaliate if attacked again.

Last week, Russia said it would go ahead with the sale of advanced S-300 anti-missile systems to Syria, despite Israeli protests, which included a personal visit by Netanyahu to Russia to discuss the issue. The sale is seen by military analysts as making Israeli sorties into Syrian airspace much more difficult, and as complicating the possibility of an imposed no-fly zone over Syria by outside powers, as was done over Libya during the civil war there in 2011.

Moscow also sent a number of warships to the Mediterranean in what was seen, in part, as a warning to Israel not to hit Syria again. Russia has long maintained a major naval port in Syria.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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