Netanyahu says Syria regime 'no longer immune' from Israeli retaliation
Sebastian Scheiner (POOL/AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was "no longer immune" from retaliation, while declaring the Iran nuclear deal over after Washington ditched the accord.
Noting that Israel had stayed out of Syria's protracted civil war, in which Tehran backs Assad, Netanyahu said increasing Iranian encroachment required "a new calculus".
"He is no longer immune, his regime is no longer immune. If he fires at us, as we've just demonstrated, we will destroy his forces," the Israeli leader said at an event organised by the Policy Exchange think tank in London.
Tensions between Israel and Iran escalated last month when Israel launched an extensive campaign of retaliatory strikes on Iranian-operated bases in Syria, responding to a barrage of rockets and missiles fired by Iran towards the Israeli part of the Golan Heights only hours before.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Haaretz reported last year that Israel has struck targets in Syria more than 100 times since the war erupted in 2011, but the latest escalation between Israel and Iran brought further tension to the region.
"Syria has to understand that Israel will not tolerate the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria against Israel," Netanyahu added.
"The consequences are not merely to the Iranian forces there but to the Assad regime as well," he said, adding: "I think it's something that he should consider very seriously".
Netanyahu is on a three-day European tour -- visiting Berlin and Paris earlier this week -- marked by strategic differences on Iran, as its leaders attempt to rescue the nuclear deal after US withdrawal in May.
He met Wednesday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who reiterated London's "firm commitment" to the accord, according to Downing Street.
But the Israeli leader said Thursday "the weight of the American economy" was already dooming "this very bad agreement".
"It's a done deal -- in the other meaning of the word," he added, noting companies were already pulling out of Iran under threat of damaging US sanctions.
"You have to choose whether to do business with Iran, or forego doing business with the United States... that's a no-brainer and everybody's choosing it effectively as we speak."
Netanyahu said he had reiterated his dislike for the 2015 deal, which offers sanctions relief in exchange for strict limits on Iran's nuclear activities.
However, the focus of his discussions in Europe had been on reducing Iran's presence in Syria, he added.
"I found considerable agreement on that goal."
At the same time, he criticised his European hosts for an outdated approach to the region.
Netanyahu said Iranian expansion had led to a "realignment" of relations with Arab states in the Middle East who also oppose Tehran -- something Britain and western Europe were "evidently not understanding".
"There is a whole realignment taking place in the Middle East -- they're sort of stuck in the past," he added, displaying a map of the world with numerous countries highlighted to show Israel's "expanding diplomatic horizons".
"I think there's a west European problem with recognizing that the world is changing," he said.
Netanyahu was also asked about the IDF's approach to the protests in Gaza, where more than 100 Palestinians have been killed since March 30.
“We tried water cannons, we tried tear gas and none worked. Given our record, we probably will figure out something. The last thing we want is violence (or) confrontation. We tried other ways, it doesn’t work. Hamas wants them to die.” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.
The deadly clashes between the IDF and Palestinian protesters in Gaza caused widespread criticism across the international community due to the high death toll.
With 29 votes in favor, two opposed and 14 abstentions, the UN Human Rights Council voted through a resolution on May 18, calling on the council to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry... to investigate all alleged violations and abuses... in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018."
The resolution was voted through after more than 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza protests on May 14, the same day that of the US embassy opening in Jerusalem.
Israel argues that the UNHRC has an institutional bias against the Jewish state and pays it disproportionate attention compared to human rights crises elsewhere
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