Israel may expand its operations against Iran in Syria if necessary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the government at it’s weekly meeting as he continued to try and calm fears about the pending US troop pullout from Syria.
"The decision to remove the 2,000 US troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy: We will continue to act against Iran's attempt to establish military bases in Syria, and if necessary we will even expand our operations there,” Netanyahu said.
“I want to reassure the concerned - our cooperation with the United States continues in full force and is carried out in many areas: in the operational, intelligence and other security fields,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister also summarized IDF activity on the northern border to destroy the Hezbollah attack tunnels, explaining that on Thursday, one tunnel had been blown up and another had been sealed.
This operation to destroy the tunnels “will continue in the coming weeks until its completion in order to deprive Hezbollah of the ability to use the tunnels as weapons. The operation will meet its timetable and objectives,” Netanyahu said.
Since US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement about Syria Wednesday
, Israeli officials have worked to calm fears that the move emboldens Iran and thus endangers Israel.
Resignation announcements in the wake of the decision by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US top envoy leading the global coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, only served to underscore Israeli fears.
Mattis, who had been scheduled to visit Israel this week to discuss Iran, canceled his trip.
Trump tweeted that McGurk was simply grandstanding.
“McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President [Barack] Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!,” Trump tweeted.
He continued, “If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!.”
With respect to the Mattis resignation, he said, "When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
On Sunday morning, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria "bad for Israel
,” explaining that it strengthens Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who she said was “an antisemite."
"We know how to protect ourselves," Shaked continued. The US withdrawal could lead to the transfer of more weapons to Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group Hezbollah from Iran, Shaked said, but "we will do everything we need to prevent Iran from gaining foothold in Syria."
Shaked also condemned the effect that the American troop withdrawal would have on Kurdish militias in Syria, which have been leading the fight against the Islamic State. On Friday, Erdogan pledged to "eliminate" these Kurdish militias along with remaining ISIS fighters.
"The Kurds are great heroes," she said, "and because of them the West succeeded in its fight against ISIS. They are allies, and I hope that they will win in their battle against the Turks. I hope that the international community will prevent Erdogan from massacring the Kurds.”Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.
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