Bennett after Latakia strike: We’re fighting off forces of evil

After the Latakia airstrike, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wants to continue "to act against destructive forces".

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israel will not stop protecting itself for a moment, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, the morning after an alleged Israeli strike on the Latakia port in Syria.

“We are fighting off the forces of evil in this region, day and night,” Bennett said. “We will not stop for one second. It happens almost every day.

“We will continue to act against destructive forces; we will persevere and will not tire,” he stated.

Syrian state media SANA reported that Israeli aircraft fired missiles from the direction of the Mediterranean towards the commercial port in Latakia, and a number of shipping containers caught fire.

Bennett spoke at the eighth trilateral summit between Israel, Greece and Cyprus with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades visiting Jerusalem.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Cyprus's president Nicos Anastasiades on December 7, 2021. (credit: GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Cyprus's president Nicos Anastasiades on December 7, 2021. (credit: GPO)

“At the same time, we are strengthening our ties with our friends, in every area,” the prime minister said, citing challenges such as climate change, health, the economy, as well as security.

The Greek and Cypriot leaders spoke out against Turkey’s recent actions in Cyprus, including opening access to Varosha, which had been a no-man’s-land between the Greek-speaking part of the country and the Turkish-occupied north, and encroaching on the island state’s economic waters.

Anastasiades said his country has been “long subjected to behavior by our neighbor Turkey, which runs counter to international law.”

Turkey has a “revisionist policy, according to which might is right,” he said, citing “violations of marine rights in exclusive economic zones and on the ground, in defiance of the special status of Verosha.”

Mitsotakis warned that Turkey’s behavior vis-à-vis Cyprus was an “unacceptable provocation” and called for a “complete withdrawal of Turkish occupation troops from the island.”

“Unfortunately, we see from Turkey continued intransigence and unacceptable aggression on land and in maritime zones of Cyprus,” he stated.

In recent weeks, Israel and Turkey – Greece and Cyprus’s historic adversary – were embroiled in their own concerns, with police in Istanbul arresting a married pair of Israeli bus drivers after they photographed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s home from a scenic overlook.

After their release, Erdogan spoke with Bennett and President Isaac Herzog, who expressed support for warming ties. Last week, Erdogan said in a press conference that he would like closer Turkey-Israel relations.

However, those remarks come after over a decade of poor relations between the countries, including Israel saying that Turkey harbors Hamas terrorists and with Erdogan who accuses Israel of intentionally killing children.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus also cooperate closely in the area of natural gas in the Mediterranean and have signed agreements towards constructing the EastMed Pipeline, meant to be the world’s longest, which would have gas flowing from Israel’s territorial waters into Europe.

“We’re advancing our East-Med energy connection and taking the cooperation to new heights,” Bennett said.

Mitsotakis pointed out that the three countries committed to slashing and eventually eliminating all non-renewable energy as part of the global effort to combat climate change.

However, he said, “in the meantime, natural gas is going to be particularly important.”

“As we transition to greener, more sustainable energy,” Anastasiades said, “projects like the EastMed Pipeline fit very well.”

The leaders also praised the EastMed Gas Forum, started by Israel and Egypt, as encouraging cooperation between countries in the region.

They also welcomed the Abraham Accords, between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, as bringing economic opportunities.

Anastasiades said he would work to advance the EU-Israel Association Council, a body meant to strengthen ties between the sides, which has not been convened since 2013.

Emergency preparedness is another topic that was raised. “Together we’re stronger,” Bennett said. “When one country has a forest fire, why can’t the other countries come in and help?”

Anastasiades suggested they launch a forum for security and disaster situations, and Mitsotakis thanked Israel for helping fight recent forest fires in Greece. President Isaac Herzog met with Mitsotakis and Anastasiades as well. 

Earlier Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen signed an agreement with her Cypriot counterpart Chief Scientist Kyriakos Kokkinos to cooperate in the areas of scientific research and technology. The agreement creates a new framework in which to promote joint research ideas for the two governments.

Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.