Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday revealed a map showing more than 10 different facilities in Syria’s Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS) in Masyaf that are used by Iran to produce advanced missiles and weapons for its proxies.
“Under the vision of [former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander] Qasem Soleimani, Iran transformed CERS into production facilities for mid- and long-range precise missiles and weapons, provided to Hezbollah and Iranian proxies,” he said at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. “In other words, it became yet another Iranian front – a factory for advanced, strategic weapons.”
“These sites, particularly the underground facility at Masyaf, host significant threats to the region and to the State of Israel,” he added. “Masyaf, specifically, is used to produce advanced missiles.”
Israel has been accused of striking Syria countless times as part of its war-between-wars campaign aimed at preventing Iranian entrenchment in the country as well as stopping Hezbollah from obtaining weaponry from the Islamic Republic.
Israel ramps up strike campaign throughout Middle East
From May through July, Israel ramped up its campaign and carried out a double-digit number of strikes throughout the Middle East.
The IAF has struck military sites at Masyaf in northwestern Syria numerous times, the latest being on August 25. According to images released by Israeli satellite intelligence firm Image Sat International, the strike targeted numerous buildings, completely destroying some of them and, reportedly, hundreds of Iranian-made surface-to-surface missiles.
The strike in August hit a site that was targeted in May as well as in April 2019 and September 2018.
Among the various targets hit in these alleged Israeli strikes are structures that served as an entrance to underground tunnels, surface-to-surface missile factories, production hangers and neighboring structures.
“In addition to CERS, the Iranians are currently working to build missile and weapon industries in Lebanon and Yemen,” Gantz said. “If this trend will not be stopped, within a decade, there will be advanced Iranian industries across the region, producing weapons and spreading terror.”
"within a decade, there will be advanced Iranian industries across the region, producing weapons and spreading terror"Defense Minister Benny Gantz at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York
A 'sharp increase' in Iranian violent activity
There has been a “sharp increase in Iran’s violent activity” in the region since the start of 2022, he said.
Despite economic hardships facing its own citizens, Iran sends more than $1 billion to its proxy groups, including over $500 million to Hezbollah in Lebanon, hundreds of millions of dollars to the Houthis in Yemen, more than $100m. to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and tens of millions of dollars to pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.
“The lifting of the sanctions on Iran will release more than $100 billion, and without doubt, this will let them double or triple their terror budget,” Gantz said.
Iran, which possesses more than 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, continues to smuggle weapons to countries and non-state actors such as Hezbollah, which is assessed to have an arsenal of some 150,000 missiles and rockets on Israel’s northern border.
Israel’s war-between-wars campaign has targeted the smuggling routes as well as individuals believed to play key roles in Hezbollah’s precision-mission project.
To address Iranian aggression, “we must expand cooperation with regional partners” as well as “strengthen industrial and economic ties followed by military cooperation under the umbrella of CENTCOM,” Gantz said.
“We cannot settle” and insist on regional and global security, he said, adding that “regardless of a diplomatic solution, we must ensure credible military deterrence.”
Gantz also commented on Iran’s nuclear program, saying the Islamic Republic could reach enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within a matter of weeks.
“Our intelligence confirms international reports about Iran’s steady progress, including its production capabilities and rate of enrichment,” he said.
“Iran is producing more and more advanced centrifuges, including at underground facilities where activities are prohibited,” he added. “According to our assessments, should Iran decide to do so, it can reach 3SQ [enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon] at 90% within a matter of weeks.”
Israel is opposed to a return to a 2015 deal that lifts sanctions by the West on Tehran in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. While Western powers, including the US, continue on the diplomatic path, hoping to bring Iran to sign a new deal, an Israeli official on Sunday said Jerusalem does not expect a deal to be signed before the US midterm elections in November.
Gantz said there were “several issues that both sides are insisting on, and it might take longer” to sign a deal. “It can happen in a few days, a few weeks, or it may not happen at all,” he said.
Until a deal is signed, the pressure on the Iranian regime, including that of a credible threat of an alternative, should continue, Gantz said.
“We must make sure that whenever a deal is signed, it has the right ingredients in it to ensure that Iran is kept away as much as possible from nuclear activities and other activities in the region,” he said.
On Saturday, Britain, France and Germany voiced frustrations and raised “serious doubts” with Iran after the Islamic Republic tried to link its signing with the closing of UN watchdog probes into uranium traces found at three nuclear sites.
Regarding Iran’s demand, Gantz said: “Iran refuses to cooperate with international investigations, and it’s because they have something to hide. We deserve answers, and Iran should be held accountable. We must ensure the authority and professional independence of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”