Against the background of Iranian threats and heightened tension in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to Tehran from Yad Vashem on Wednesday: “Don’t test the State of Israel’s determination.”
14 killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian airbase, April 10, 2018 (Reuters)
Netanyahu’s comments came at the annual ceremony marking the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. They also came following a phone conversation with President Vladimir Putin, the first since Russia blamed Israel for a predawn attack Monday at the T4 Air Base in Syria near Homs.
The Kremlin issued a statement saying Israel initiated the conversation, and that Putin “stressed it was fundamentally important to respect Syria’s sovereignty and urged to refrain from any moves that further destabilize the situation in that country and pose a threat to its security.”
The Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu reiterated to Putin that Israel would not allow the entrenchment of Iran’s military in Syria.
The conversation took place as US-Russian tensions soared with President Donald Trump promising a retaliatory strike against Syria
for its alleged use of chemical weapons last Saturday.
Trump condemns Syria chemical attack, vows quick action, April 9, 2018 (Reuters)
Netanyahu referred to the chemical attack at the opening of his Yad Vashem address, saying that the developments of the last few days show that “standing up to evil and aggression is a mission for every generation – no generation is exempt from the task, and woe to the generation that evades it.”
Referring to the chemical attack in Syria, and to the waving of a flag with a swastika by Palestinian rioters near the Gaza security fence last Friday, Netanyahu said that a major lesson learned from the Holocaust is that “murderous evil, when you don’t stand up to it, spreads rapidly and gradually threatens us again.”
Deadly gas attack reported on Syrian rebel enclave, Damascus denies, April 8, 2018 (Reuters)
The prime minister highlighted the Munich Agreement of 1938, when the Western powers – eager to avoid a war – signed an agreement of appeasement with Nazi Germany. “They wanted to prevent a war, but their concessions only fanned it, made the damage much worse and brought about the occupation of all of Europe,” he said.
The unwillingness of the Western powers to stand against an oppressive regime and pay the price to stop its aggressions led to 60 million people being killed, “including six million of our own people,” he added.
Netanyahu said that “since the hour of Israel’s independence, Israel will never act in that mistaken manner.”
Israel has adopted a policy of preventing aggression against it in real-time, he said. “These are not empty words, we back them with action,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said this policy can be summarized in three words: “Firmness against aggression.”
Today, Netanyahu said, another extreme regime is threatening Israel, as well as the peace of the world, and openly states it wants to destroy the Jewish state.
“There are those who delude themselves that, like what happened in Munich, the [nuclear agreement] that was signed with the murderous Iranian regime will stop its aggression,” he said. “But throughout history we have seen again and again how agreements with these types of regimes are not worth the paper they are written on.”
This, he said, is already true of the Iran nuclear agreement, as the Islamic Republic – as Nazi Germany did in Europe in the 1930s – is attacking state after state.
While his message to the Iranian leaders was not to test Israel’s determination, his message to the Iranian people was different.
“Israel is not your enemy, but, rather, the oppressive regime that suppresses you is [the enemy],” he said. “When that regime will disappear from the world, and it will disappear in the end, our two ancient peoples – the Jews and the Persians – can again live together in cooperation and friendship.
Netanyahu said that Israel is not turning a blind eye to the dangers, and “most of the time is not frightened by them. During the Holocaust we were helpless, defenseless and voiceless. In truth, our voice was not heard at all. Today we have a strong country, a strong army, and our voice is heard among the nations, more than once at the head of the nations, because all know that Israel is the one true democracy in the Mideast.”
THE PRIME MINISTER held two high-level deliberations on Wednesday, in light of the tension in the north.
The first was in the morning, when he met with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other top intelligence and security officials. The second was in the afternoon, when the security cabinet met and discussed the situation.
Two issues were on the table: the first was the likelihood of a US attack in Syria in response to President Bashar Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons on Saturday, and the second was Iran’s threat to retaliate against Israel for what it said was an Israeli attack Monday morning on a Syrian air base that left seven Iranians dead.
Following the security cabinet meeting, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi – a member of the forum – said on Kan Bet radio that “it is very likely” that in a number of hours or days “there will be a military confrontation across our northern border in Syria between a superpower and local forces, with the Russians threatening not to remain apathetic to this type of attack.”
This, he said, “is a development we have never seen before in the Middle East.”
Saying that “we are very close to an American attack,” Hanegbi speculated that even though the Russians threatened to respond to missile attacks on Syria by targeting the launchers of those missiles, it was likely the Russians will be “very cautious about involving themselves,” since the attacks are not aimed at the Russian troops inside Syria.
He said that US intelligence would undoubtedly tell those spearheading any attack where the Russian forces are located, to ensure they will not be hit.
Regarding Iran’s threat to retaliate against Israel, Hanegbi said that the country’s security forces are prepared to deal with any scenario.
He said that although Iran used its proxy Hezbollah to attack Jewish and Israeli targets abroad in the past, this is unlikely now because Tehran has been careful – since negotiation over the Iranian nuclear deal began in earnest, and even after the deal was signed in 2015 – not to create the image of a country actively engaged in terrorism in other states.
“In the Middle East they do act in this manner,” Hanegbi said, “but I do not see them acting abroad.”
BUT AMOS YADLIN, a former head of Military Intelligence who now is head of the Institute for National Security Studies, had a different take, writing on Twitter that “the Iranians will probably respond to the strike attributed to Israel, even if not immediately.”
Iran, Yadlin wrote, “will consider to launch an official retaliation for the attacks on its soldiers this time in order to deter Israel from continuing to strike Iranian forces in Syria. They will not do so from Iranian territory. The possible theaters for doing so are Syria, Lebanon or anywhere else around the globe, and Iran may employ its characteristic use of terror proxies.”
While Israel may have to worry about an Iranian retaliation for the alleged attack on the Syrian air base, former National Security Council adviser Yaakov Amidror said it does not have to worry that Assad would respond to an American attack on his territory as Iraqi president Saddam Hussein did when the US forces attacked it in 1991 – with a strike against Israel.
In a conference call put together by MediaCentral, Amidror, now a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said “Assad would be mad to act against Israel because of an American operation.”
The Syrian president, he said, “knows better than anyone else that this could be the end of his regime – I do not think that is in his cards.”
However, with the Iranians, Amidror said, the calculations are different. Saying that the Iranians might use the fog and smoke of a US attack on Syria to strike against Israel, he added, “The Iranians may be less cautious than the Syrian regime.”