Housing Minister Yoav Galant said Saturday Israel would seek to totally remove Iran’s military presence from Syria. “An opportunity has arisen for Israel to uproot Iran from Syria, and we’ll take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
Speaking at a cultural event in Tel Aviv suburb Givat Shmuel, the minister, a former army general and a member of the high-level security cabinet, said, “We need to strike while the iron is hot and eradicate any trace of Iranian entrenchment in Syria. We’ll put the Iranian genie back in its bottle.”
Galant said Iran was “an imperialist terrorist nation…they’re spread out in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in an attempt to create an axis from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea…to surround us and create a war of attrition between ourselves and the Arabs.”
But he said Iran was overreaching, creating difficulties for itself. “The Iranian economy is in a bad state, and there’s an internal debate in Iran. Many understand that the focus on exporting terrorism and developing nuclear weapons is using up the resources of tens of millions of residents who need to live.”
Israeli officials told Hadashot TV news Friday night that the security cabinet believes Iran “has gotten the Israeli message, and won’t mess with us in the near future” — a day after Israel launched dozens of strikes on Iranian military sites in Syria in response to an Iranian missile barrage directed at northern Israel.
Israeli leaders assess that the Israeli action has made it clear to Tehran that it does not possess the operational infrastructure it needs in Syria to successfully contend with IDF capabilities, the report said.
The army has told ministers in the top forum that it thus believes the current round of hostilities to be over, though tensions in the north will persevere, and border incidents are still possible.
At least 11 Iranians were among those killed in unprecedented Israeli strikes in Syria, a monitor said Saturday.
“At least 27 pro-regime fighters were killed: six Syrian soldiers and 21 foreign fighters, including 11 Iranians,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
That updates the monitor’s initial death toll of 23, which did not specify the number of Iranians.
“The new report is due to the death of wounded or missing persons whose deaths have been confirmed,” Abdel Rahman said.
Speaking in the north of Israel earlier Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling him to “throw” Iranian forces out of his country.
Liberman visited the northern city of Katzrin to debrief residents following Israel’s largest air campaign in Syria in more than 40 years, in which it said it bombed over 50 Iranian targets.
The sortie came after Iran fired 20 missiles toward Israel just after midnight on Thursday morning, the IDF said, forcing residents of the north into bomb shelters. Four of the missiles were knocked down by the Iron Dome air defense system and the rest fell short of Israeli territory, according to the military.
Liberman also told Israelis they should not let the threat from Syria deter them from visiting the north. “You can come, you can return to the bed and breakfasts, to tour, to hike,” he said. “There are truly amazing views and among the most beautiful places, and there is no problem. We are back to normal.”
He said that it was a mistake to think that Thursday morning’s attacks on the Iranian bases had completely solved the problem, but that the army was ready for anything and would continue to do whatever necessary to ensure Israel is secure.
The defense minister welcomed Iran’s statement that it did not want an escalation between the two countries and stressed that Israel was also not looking for more confrontation with anyone.
“We did not cross Iran’s borders,” he said. “They came here.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel would be victorious in its “ongoing campaign” against Iran.
“I have established a basic principle: Whoever strikes us, we are going to strike them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel has long warned it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic Republic backs Assad’s regime in the country’s seven-year civil war.
The Jewish state has said said it also conducts operations in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terror group which is said to have 140,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel from Lebanon.
A leading Iranian cleric said Friday that Tel Aviv and Haifa will be destroyed if Israel behaves “foolishly,” while also vowing Iran will ramp up missile development despite Western criticism. He spoke as thousands of Iranians marched in anti-Israel and anti-US protests nationwide.
“We will expand our missile capabilities despite Western pressure [to curb it]… to let Israel know that if it acts foolishly, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be totally destroyed,” Reuters translated Ahmad Khatami as saying during Friday prayers at Tehran University, broadcast on Iranian state television.