US Ambassador David Friedman, Sara Netanyahu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference on a US Navy destroyer ship visit to Ashdod, October 11, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The US Navy warship USS Ross’s port of call in Ashdod is a clear signal that Washington backs Israel’s military efforts to prevent Iranian intervention in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, broadly hinting that this was a message to Russia as well.
“This is the first visit in some 19 years by an American destroyer at the Ashdod port,” Netanyahu said as he toured the ship with his wife, Sara. “There is significance to this visit; it symbolizes that deep alliance between Israel and the United States.”
Noting that the USS Ross is in action against terror objectives in Syria, Netanyahu said the Israel-US alliance is close across many spheres, but especially when it comes to security.
“We are determined to act to defend ourselves against the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, and against its proxies,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
“President [Donald] Trump gave full support
to this policy of ours, and the fact that this destroyer is visiting here today is an expression of that American support. I think that message has been received through the Middle East,” he said, adding in an apparent reference to Russia, “and I think it has been received even beyond the Middle East.”
Netanyahu’s comments come against the background of the crisis in Israeli-Russian ties following the September Syrian downing of a Russian plane, which Moscow indirectly blamed on Israel and – as a result – sent S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missile batteries to Syria.
Both Israel and the US urged Moscow against the move, with Jerusalem concerned it may reduce the maneuverability of the IAF in the skies over Syria and Lebanon. Netanyahu has said he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon, but no date has been set.
Netanyahu said the USS Ross’s anchoring at Ashdod’s port comes at “a propitious time.” He said the Israeli-American alliance is manifest in many different ways, “but most especially in the sharing of military intelligence and in military cooperation against terror and the aggressive force of Iran in this region.”
He said Israel is committed to preventing Iran from expanding its “empire.”
“We want them to go back to Iran – get out of Syria, get out of Yemen, get out of Iraq, and stop building war and creating misery everywhere they go,” he said US Ambassador David Friedman, who was accompanied by his wife, Tammy, said the symbolism of the moment should not be lost on anyone.
“Israel and the United States have enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship for decades,” he said. “The presence of the USS Ross in Ashdod, and her patrols through the Mediterranean Sea, represent the commitment of the United States to provide credible defensive assistance to Israel against all external threats. This vessel is a testament to American resolve to confront and defeat violent extremist organizations and nations wherever they operate.”
The USS Ross is a US Navy guided-missile destroyer. Though it anchored in Haifa last year, this is its first visit to the Ashdod port since 1999.
“The return of American naval vessels to Ashdod reflects the depth of Israeli-US relations,” said Port Director Orna Bikhor.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer carries a crew of 400. During their stay, crew members will visit several local sites in Ashdod and participate in activities with residents.
The USS Ross is currently operating in the Navy’s 6th Fleet area of operations, which covers about half of the Atlantic Ocean, from the North Pole to Antarctica, as well as the Adriatic, Baltic, Barents, Black, Caspian, Mediterranean and North seas.
It is fitted with surface-to-air missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, torpedoes, Phalanx Close-In weapons systems, and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun.
Last April, the ship fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase in Syria after a chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaykhun by Bashar Assad. The regime’s attack killed close to 100 people.
Some have expressed concern that port calls by US naval vessels – both to Haifa and Ashdod – will be discontinued due to US intelligence concerns when Israel follows through with its plan to hand over the running of the Haifa Port to a Chinese firm in 2021, and allows a Chinese company to build a new port in Ashdod.
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