The UK’s foreign secretary on Monday expressed support for Israel’s military actions in shooting down a Iranian drone that entered its airspace and later attacking Iranian targets in Syria.
“We support Israel’s right to defend itself against any incursions into its territory,” Boris Johnson said in a statement that also highlighted concern over the Iranian activities that precipitated the clash.
“We are concerned at the Iranian actions, which detract from efforts to get a genuine peace process underway,” he said.
Johnson’s comments come after an Iranian UAV infiltrated Israel’s airspace early Saturday and was shot down by Israel, which then launched an attack on the Iranian position.
During that attack, an Israel Air Force F-16 was shot down and Israel launched a widespread retaliatory offensive in Syria. The IDF said it hit four Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites, causing significant damage.
Israel also said it destroyed the Syrian military’s main command and control bunker in its most devastating assault there in decades.
In his statement, Johnson also called on Moscow to rein in its ally Tehran.
“We encourage Russia to use its influence to press the regime and its backers to avoid provocative actions and to support de-escalation in pursuit of a broader political settlement,” he said.
The United States also voiced support for Israel’s actions over the weekend, with the White House and State Department backing Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressed a similar sentiment on Sunday, adding that “everywhere we find trouble in the Middle East, you find the same thing behind it. Whether it be in Yemen or Beirut, or in Syria, in Iraq, you always find Iran engaged.”
Israel has been warning for weeks that it would not tolerate what it said were Iranian plans to establish a foothold on Israel’s northern border for eventual use in attacks against the Jewish state.
“If Iran continues to threaten and carry out offensive operations against Israel from Syria, Israel will teach Iran a lesson it will never forget,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told the London-based Arabic-language outlet Elaph on Sunday.
Katz, a member of the high-level security cabinet, said Iran was “crossing red lines” and “playing with fire,” endangering not just its own soldiers but Syria’s as well.
“The Syrian army will find itself under fire if it continues to cooperate and allow Iran to position itself on Syrian soil,” Katz said.
Sunday saw the border area mostly return to calm after the day of hostilities, though Israeli officials continued to make clear they would not hesitate to deploy forces again.
Israel fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to the Lebanese Hezbollah — an Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Hezbollah’s fighters are also fighting on the side of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
Though Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian conflict, it has reportedly struck weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah dozens of times since 2012.