The US on Friday gave its full backing to Israeli efforts to counter Iran’s “aggressive adventurism” in the Middle East, just days after Iranian military facilities in Syria were targeted in alleged Israeli strikes.
“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian regional actions that endanger Israeli national security and the safety of the Israeli people,” deputy State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement.
“Iranian support of and supply to terrorist groups in Syria and across the region that have the clear intent and capability to strike Israel are unacceptable,” he added.
The airstrikes late Tuesday and early Wednesday, which an unnamed Israeli defense official told The Associated Press targeted several Iranian sites, were the first attributed to Israel since US President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement this month he would pull all American troops from Syria.
That move has sparked concern in Israel, which has accused archenemy Iran of working to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten the Jewish state and be used to transfer weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.
“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the Iranian regime’s aggressive adventurism, and we will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively,” Palladino said.
“The commitment of the Trump Administration and the American people to ensuring Israel’s security is both enduring and unshakable.”
Also Friday, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said he will visit Israel and Turkey in January for talks on regional security as the US moves forward with the troop pullout from Syria.
“We will discuss our continued work confronting security challenges facing allies & partners in the region, including the next phase of the fight against ISIS, as the U.S. begins to bring troops home from Syria,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite domestic and international criticism over the Syria withdrawal, Trump has defended the move and said Wednesday he was not concerned it would endanger Israeli security by emboldening Iran, pointing to extensive US military aid for Israel.
“I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look,” Trump said during a visit to US troops in Iraq, using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname.
Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside Russia and Hezbollah on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israeli officials have said that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.
“We will study its timetable, how it will be implemented and — of course — its implications for us. In any case we will take care to maintain the security of Israel and to defend ourselves in this area,” Netanyahu said in an English-language statement released by his office immediately following Trump’s announcement on December 19.
While most American troops have been stationed in northeastern Syria, backing Kurdish fighters, a smaller number have maintained a presence along the Iraqi border at al-Tanf, frustrating Iranian efforts to move weapons and technology.