Pompeo speaks with Netanyahu on Iran, backs Israel’s preemptive raid

Top US diplomat and PM discuss Tehran’s entrenchment in Syria as tensions soar across Middle East

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press availability with Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at the State Department in Washington, August 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press availability with Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at the State Department in Washington, August 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Israel’s latest strikes in Syria, the top US diplomat’s office said on Sunday.

“The secretary expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself against threats posed by the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps and to take action to prevent imminent attacks against Israeli assets in the region,” Pompeo’s office said in a statement.

“The secretary and the prime minister discussed how Iran is leveraging its foothold in Syria to threaten Israel and its neighbors. The prime minister noted that Israel would strike IRGC targets threatening Israel, wherever they are located,” the statement said.

The talk came as tensions between Tehran and Jerusalem spiraled on multiple fronts over the past 24 hours, with airstrikes targeting Iranian-linked forces in multiple countries attributed to Israel; a mysterious drone explosion outside the media headquarters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group in Beirut; a war of words between Israeli officials and terror chief Hassan Nasrallah; and rockets lobbed at Israel from the Gaza Strip, where the main terror groups are supported by Tehran.

Lebanese military intelligence inspects the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a Hezbollah media center in the south of the capital Beirut, August 25, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Late Saturday night, the Israeli Air Force bombed a compound in central Syria that the IDF said was used by pro-Iranian fighters as their base of operations, after they tried to launch attack drones laden with explosives at Israel. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said an Iranian combatant and two fighters for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah were among the fatalities in the strike, along with at least two others whose identities are not yet known.

The late-night Israeli airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces on Iranian targets in Syria.

On Sunday, the IDF said the attack drones that Iran intended to use against Israel  were flown into Syria from Tehran several weeks ago, along with Iranian military officials to act as advisers. The plan was personally overseen by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Soleimani, the IDF chief of staff said.

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday released footage of what it said was a failed attempt by pro-Iranian operatives to launch an explosives-laden drone into northern Israel from Syria last Thursday.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

A spokesman for the Hezbollah terror group said Sunday morning that an armed Israeli drone exploded outside the organization’s propaganda offices in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, causing damage to the structure. Analysts later said that the drone was likely Iranian in origin.

On Sunday night, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel, saying: “From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, be prepared and wait for us,” while taunting that a retaliation could come in “one day, two days, three days” and so forth.

Netanyahu on Sunday warned neighboring countries that they would be held accountable for any attacks against the Jewish state emanating from their territory.

“We won’t tolerate attacks on Israel from any country in the area. Any country that allows its territory to be used for attacks against Israel will bear the consequences. I stress: The state will bear the consequences,” Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, said during a tour of the Golan Heights with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

Hezbollah supporters watch a televised speech by the Lebanese terror group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, in the town of Al-Ain in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, on August 25, 2019. (AFP)

In a separate airstrike on Sunday, several members of a pro-Iranian Iraqi militia, including a field commander, were killed by an unidentified drone along the Iraq-Syria border, according to Arabic media reports. The group accused Israel of carrying out the deadly raid.

Meanwhile, three rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters. Israel on Thursday blamed the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the recent increase in violence emanating from Gaza.

There have been few direct clashes between Israel and Iran in Syria. In May 2018, Israel said Iranian forces fired some 20 rockets at Israel, with most being shot down or failing to reach Israeli territory. In response, Israel carried out extensive airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria.

While Israel has acknowledged carrying out thousands of airstrikes inside Syria against weapons transfers to Iran-backed fighters and to keep Iran from gaining a foothold there, it rarely acknowledges individual strikes.

The ambiguity is part of a strategy seen as helping give Tehran and Damascus cover from needing to strike back to save face. Israel has appeared to apply the same strategy in Iraq, where the IDF has been reported to have carried out a number of strikes on Iran-backed militia positions near Baghdad.

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