Netanyahu confirms Israeli weekend strike on Iranian weapons caches in Syria

A blast caused by an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in the Damascus International Airport on January 11, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A blast caused by an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in the Damascus International Airport on January 11, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Syrian military source says target a depot near airport; Assad regime accuses US of helping Israel ‘get away’ with attacks

(SOURCE)   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday confirmed that Israel conducted an airstrike against Iranian targets in Syria over the weekend, which he said destroyed a number of weapons caches in the Damascus airport.

“The Israel Defense Forces has attacked hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets. Just in the past 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian depots full of Iranian weapons in the Damascus International Airport,” Netanyahu said, speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, in a rare acknowledgement of such a raid.

The prime minister appeared to be referring to an attack on the airport on Friday night in which the Syrian military said that “Israeli warplanes coming from the direction of the Galilee fired several missiles toward the vicinity of Damascus.”

Israel typically refrains from commenting on individual airstrikes in Syria, but does generally acknowledge that it carries out raids against Iranian- and Hezbollah-linked targets in the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot deliver statements to the press at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, on December 4, 2018 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

During the meeting Sunday, the cabinet bade farewell to outgoing IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

The prime minister praised the general for blocking Iran’s attempts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.

“We have operated — to impressive success — to block Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

“We acted against the manufacturing of precision weapons in Lebanon, we acted to destroy Hezbollah’s tunnel weapons in Lebanon with Operation Northern Shield, we acted against Hamas’s tunnels on the Gaza border, we have prevented hundreds of lone-wolf terror acts in Judea and Samaria, and we have carried out many more operations, both openly and hidden from view,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said under Eisenkot’s command, the IDF made “great achievements,” but added that there “was much more work to be done, which we will do.”

Eisenkot is due to end his four-year tenure as IDF chief on Tuesday, when he will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

“I will have more to say at the official farewell ceremony, but at this stage, I will limit my comments to two words: Thanks, Gadi,” Netanyahu said.

The official news agency SANA reported that Syrian air defense batteries opened fire on “hostile Israel missiles” and intercepted “most” of them, a common claim of the Syrian military, which many defense analysts believe to be false or overstated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said that “two areas hosting military positions of Iranian forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement have been targeted.”

The sites were near the airport and around the Kisweh area south of Damascus, the observatory said.

A Syrian military source on Friday said that a “ministry of transport warehouse at Damascus International Airport” was targeted in the air raid. Another official told SANA that traffic at the airport had not been disrupted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the funeral of former defense and foreign minister Moshe Arens at Savyon Cemeter, on January 8, 2019. (Flash90)

On Saturday, Syria said it filed complaints with the UN Security Council and with UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres over Israel’s alleged Friday night airstrikes.

Damascus said Israel was able “get away with attacks against Syria” only because it is backed by the US, according to the Syrian foreign ministry.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The previous such reported airstrike occurred on Christmas Day. On that occasion, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile flew into Israeli airspace, and was destroyed by Israeli air defenses.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system. The systems were delivered to Syria late last year, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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