Israel vows to continue to defend against Hezbollah threats in Syria, Lebanon
SVEN NACKSTRAND (AFP/File)
Israeli officials have vowed that Israel will continue to act in defense of its citizens against threats posed by Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon, as tensions over Israeli airstrikes against the group in Syria continued to boil.
Israeli warplanes on Friday attacked several Hezbollah targets in Syria, sparking a rare clash with Syrian forces in which Israel's advanced Arrow missile defense system was forced to shoot down a Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli jet in response to the strikes.
It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
Early Monday morning, Syrian media reported that Israeli jets targeted a Hezbollah weapons convoy and several Syrian military outposts near the Lebanese-Syrian border, in what is reportedly the second strike within a 24-hour period and a third strike over the past three days.
Israel has not commented on reports of strikes overnight Monday, but in a rare statement on the matter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Friday's strikes defending Israel's right to protect itself from the transfer of advanced weapons to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
United Nations ambassador Danny Danon, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have all made similar statements over the past 24-hours, defending Israel's actions in Syria and vowing to continue to act to protect Israeli citizens against threats emanating from its northern neighbors Syria and Lebanon.
Israel's UN envoy Danny Danon on Monday hit back against the "hypocrisy" of his Syrian counterpart, who had described the Friday airstrikes as a "terrorist operation".
"It is the peak of hypocrisy for the ambassador of a regime that massacres its own people to level such accusations at us," Dannon said in a statement, adding:
"Israel will continue to defend its citizens and will act against any attempt to harm them."
Syria's UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, speaking on state television on Sunday, had said that the regime's targeting of Israeli jets with anti-aircraft missile had been "appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation."
"Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game," he said.
The Syrian army had on Friday claimed it successfully shot down one Israeli plane and hit a second -- a claim swiftly denied by Israel.
Al-Jaafari's comments came shortly after Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria's air defense systems "without the slightest hesitation" if Israeli jets were targeted again.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, meanwhile, warned Hezbollah stronghold Lebanon that any future conflict with the Shiite militant group would be fought in Lebanese territory.
In a "future war, there will be a clear address: the state of Lebanon and the terror groups operating in its territory and under its authority," Eisenkot said, speaking during a ceremony at an army base in northern Israel.
"In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to arm itself and strengthen itself," he warned, while noting that continued calm along the border was in the "mutual interest" of both countries.
"We will continue to act divisively to thwart these efforts and will continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah," he vowed.
The Iran-backed militia Hezbollah never disarmed after Lebanon's devastating 1975-90 civil war and is the country's most powerful armed force.
The group has been fighting in neighboring Syria's civil war in support of president Bashar al-Assad's regime, and Israel has expressed concern over whether the war will result in Iran increasing its power in the country.
Netanyahu told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who is also backing Assad's forces in the Syrian conflict, that in recent weeks there has been clear evidence of Iran's attempts to establish a military and naval presence in Syria.
Russia's foreign ministry confirmed on Monday that Israel's ambassador to Russia Gary Koren had been summoned for clarifications on the strikes. Koren had presented his credentials to Russian President Vladimir Putin, assuming the role only Thursday.
In a speech on Saturday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah accused Israel of intervening in the Syrian civil war on a daily basis, and claimed that Netanyahu "fears the collapse" of the Islamic State group in Syria.
With its formidable arsenal of missiles trained on the Jewish State, Hezbollah remains the most serious military threat facing Israel, a national security think tank claimed in a report released earlier this year.
Israel's military believes Hezbollah has between 100,000 and 120,000 short- and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles, with the medium-range missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
Israel does not usually confirm or deny individual raids, but it may have been led to do so this time by the circumstances of the incident.
In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.
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if Hezbollah starts another war, Israel needs to destroy every last inch of Lebanon, including Beirut