US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster warned Saturday against increased Iranian efforts to support its proxies in the Middle East, saying the “time is now” to act against Tehran.
“What’s particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more… destructive weapons into these networks,” McMaster said at the Munich Security Conference, according to Reuters.
“So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran” he said.
His warning came on the heels of Iran’s piloting a drone into Israel last week from a base it has established in Syria.
The Iranian drone, which entered northern Israel from Syria near the Jordan border, was shot down by an attack helicopter. In response, Israeli jets attacked the mobile command center from which it was operated, the army said.
During the reprisal raid, one of the eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets that took part in the operation was apparently hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed. The Israeli Air Force then conducted a second round of airstrikes, destroying between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Wednesday the drone incident was a “wake-up call” to the world regarding Iranian efforts to cement its presence in Syria.
“The drone flight this week is a wake-up call for all of us. Iran and Hezbollah are making plans to stay in Syria,” she said during a meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Iran was once again doing what it does – risking conflict and testing the will of its neighbors and opponents to resist its aggression. Israel rightly took action to defend itself,” said Haley.
The hostilities marked the first direct clash in Syria between Israel and Iran, after repeated warnings by Israeli leaders that Iran is working to establish a new front on the northern border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Israel would take military action to prevent Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, as well against its Lebanese-proxy Hezbollah.
Foreign media reports have attributed dozens of airstrikes in recent years against weapons convoys destined to Hezbollah and other strategic targets in Syria to Israel.
At the UN, Haley said the Syrian government is acting as a “front” for Iran to sow instability in the region.
“The Assad regime has become a front for Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies to advance the irresponsible and dangerous agenda for the Middle East,” said Haley.
“When we look out across the Middle East, we know one thing for certain. When Iran and Hezbollah move in, instability always follows,” she added.
McMaster’s also singled out Iran’s growing support for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
In Lebanon, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday accused Hezbollah of threatening Lebanon and the region, and called for it to end its activities in Syria, where it is fighting on behalf of the Syrian government.
Tillerson’s visit to Beirut came at time of tension between Lebanon and Israel, notably over the role of the Shiite Hezbollah — which controls a militia of tens of thousands of men and has already fought one war with Israel in 2006 and threatens to wage another — that dominated much of the conversation.
A powerful force in Lebanon’s political sphere through its presence in Hariri’s government, Hezbollah is an arch-foe of Israel and considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
It is a key ally of Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, and of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It has fighters on the ground in Syria supporting Assad’s regime.
Aoun asked Tillerson, during a meeting at the presidential palace, for US help in preventing what he said were ongoing Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty on the ground, at sea, and in the air.
His call coincides with heightened tensions between Lebanon and Israel over contested rights to offshore natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean, and Israel’s construction of a border wall that Lebanon says encroaches on its territory. Lebanon is also protesting Israeli violations of its airspace, often to bomb Iranian or Syrian targets inside neighboring Syria.