Amid heightening tensions, Israel on Monday warned that it will “eliminate” Syrian President Bashar Assad if he continues to let Iran operate from his country’s territory.
Israel considers Iran to be its most dangerous foe, and has repeatedly vowed to block it from building a nuclear bomb or establishing a permanent presence in Syria, where it is helping to prop up government forces. “If (Syrian President Bashar) Assad continues allowing the Iranians to operate out of Syria, Israel will eliminate him and topple his regime,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told news portal Ynet in an interview.
“If Assad allows Iran to turn Syria into a forward operating base against us…to attack us from Syrian soil, he should know that will spell his end,” Steinitz, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said. “It’s unacceptable that Assad sits quietly in his palace and rebuild his regime while allowing Syria to be turned into a base for attacks on Israel,” he asserted.
Israel has been bracing for the possibility of an Iranian “revenge” attack from Syria in the near future in the form of rocket and missile launches on its northern border. Israeli officials have been quoted as saying to the local media that Iran is determined to retaliate for the April 9 airstrike on Syria’s T4 airbase in which seven Iranian military advisers and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were reportedly killed.
Iran blamed Israel for the attack but Jerusalem did not confirm or deny responsibility. Israel has prepared for extensive protective measures against any possible missile fire, including its battery of anti-missile systems. Responding to a question regarding preparations of Israel’s home front for a possible war in the north, Steinitz said there was “no absolute readiness”. Addressing the Iranian threat, Netanyahu at the beginning of weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday said that Israel would do anything to defend itself.
“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us, even if this means a (military) conflict. Better now than later. We do not want escalation but we are ready for any scenario”, the Israeli Prime Minister said. He also asserted that Israel maintained “full freedom of action to defend itself”.