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Missile fire is seen from Damascus, Syria.(Photo by: OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS)
Netanyahu takes credit for Israel's weekend strike on Iranian arms in Syria
By HERB KEINON
01/13/2019
"Only in the last 36 hours did the air force strike targets in Syria and we have proven that we will not stop the settlement of Iran in Syria." Netanyahu said.
After taking responsibility on Sunday morning for Saturday’s air attacks against Iranian arms warehouses at the Damascus International Airport, Prime Minister Benjamin went a step further in the afternoon and said those attacks will intensify if need be.

"In the last 48 hours, Israel attacked an Iranian weapons depot at the Damascus International Airport, reflecting our consistent policy and firm determination to prevent Iran's military buildup in Syria,” Netanyahu said during a tour of the IDF's Galilee Division. “If necessary we will intensify these attacks.”

These comments came a few hours after Netanyahu did something he has done only very rarely since Israel began taking military actions in Syria to enforce its redlines there: publicly claim responsible for an attack just hours after it took place.

This rare admission came at the opening of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, with Netanyahu also saying that the IDF has “succeeded impressively in stopping Iran's military buildup in Syria - and in this context the IDF has attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets hundreds of times.”

His comments came after outgoing Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in a New York Times interview on Saturday that Israel had dropped 2,000 bombs on targets in Syria in 2018 alone.

“We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit,” Eisenkot was quoted as saying about attacks against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

“The accumulated number of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to act against Iran in Syria,” Netanyahu told the cabinet.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday that the IAF targeted missile depots belonging to Hezbollah in the al-Kiwash area near Damascus, as well as at the Damascus airport.

Up until now, Israel has habitually neither confirmed nor denied reports of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, not wanting to invite a retaliatory response.

Netanyahu's departure from this policy of ambiguity brought fire from the opposition, who accused him of risking national security for political gain, and tied his public admission of the attacks to the upcoming elections.

Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said she expected the censor to question Netanyahu about why he broke Israel policy of ambiguity and “harmed Israel's security.”

"It is hard to believe that this is not a serious censorship infraction,” she said, adding that she expected the censor to warn Netanyahu that he is “harming the army's maneuverability, preferring his own political interest over security interests.”

During his visit to the Galilee Division and the area where the IDF has uncovered Hezbollah attack tunnels, Netanyahu said that the uncovering of the sixth – and longest – attack tunnel on  Sunday brings Operation Northern Shield to a successful conclusion.

But, he said, “we will continue to monitor all the activities of Hezbollah and Iran and its satellites, and do what is necessary to ensure Israel's security.” He said that the uncovering of the attack tunnels was “an extraordinary achievement” that no other army in the world has yet to pull it off.

Netanyahu said that “everyone understands that a serious threat has been removed here. Hezbollah's operational plan was to use the tunnel weapon to infiltrate many fighters, between 1,000 and 2,000 terrorists into the Galilee - to occupy communities here. Everyone understands what this war would have looked like with Hezbollah battalions inside the Galilee, and with the Iranian army facing the Golan Heights. We prevented this - and we will continue to prevent this. "

Netanyahu, in Eisenkot’s farewell meeting with the cabinet, praised the outgoing chief of staff and stressed that the two of them “worked together against the manufacture of precision weaponry in Lebanon.”

He also said the two worked together in dismantling the tunnel threat from Lebanon, in uncovering Hamas tunnels on the Gaza border, thwarting hundreds of individual terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, and in “many other actions, both overt and covert.”

"Today the cabinet is parting from the chief-of-staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot,” Netanyahu said. “Gadi, you are finishing 40 years of dedicated service to the IDF and four years as chief-of-staff in two days. During this period we worked together against various threats to fortify the security of Israel.”

To achieve these goals, he said that, “the IDF operated under your command in exceptional cooperation with all the security branches - the Shin Bet, Mossad, the police and other bodies.”
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