After Air Strikes on Syria, Israel Warns Iran to Stop Arming Hezbollah

Patrick Goodenough | April 27, 2015 | 4:09am EDT
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An Israeli air force jet fighter plane takes off from Tel Nof air force base south of Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

( – Israel reportedly carried out at least three airstrikes in Syria over the past two days, and on Sunday its defense minister warned Iran to stop arming Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group that has long been Tehran’s proxy in its fight against Israel.

Israeli officials commented formally on only one of three reported strikes – an attack late Sunday targeting what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said was “a group of armed terrorists” planting explosives in Israeli territory along the Israeli-Syria border.

“Any attempt to harm our soldiers or civilians will be met with a determined response like the IDF operation from tonight, which thwarted an attempted attack,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “I wish to praise the alertness of our soldiers, who acted quickly and precisely.”

The the other two attacks, presumed to have been carried out by Israeli jets, reportedly happened on Saturday and early Monday, in an area northeast of Damascus, and according to unconfirmed Arab media accounts, those attacks targeted Hezbollah and allied Assad regime forces.

More than half a dozen times during the civil war that erupted in Syria in 2011 Israeli planes have bombed what were believed to be shipments of weaponry provided to Hezbollah by its Iranian and/or Syrian sponsors, and headed for Lebanon, where they would presumably bolster Hezbollah’s arsenal in preparation for its next conflict with Israel.

In the most recent previous incident, Israel bombed a vehicle on the Golan Heights on January 18, killing several top Hezbollah operatives and a senior officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Syrian state media outlets were silent on the latest reported strikes. Hezbollah and IRGC units are supporting the Assad regime in its fight against rebels ranging from relatively moderate nationalists to Sunni jihadists including those affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Although Israel customarily does not comment on reported military activity beyond its borders, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon alluded to it in a speech Sunday that warned Iran to stop arming its terrorist ally in Lebanon.

“Iran continues to try and arm Hezbollah and it is striving to arm the Lebanese terror group with advanced weapons in every way it can, and by using every avenue,” he said at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. “We will not allow the transfer of sophisticated weapons to terror groups, and in particular Hezbollah.”

Ya’alon said Israel knew how to reach the terrorist group, and those behind it, “at any time and any place.”

“We will not allow Hezbollah to establish a terror infrastructure on our borders with Syria, and we know how to lay our hands on anyone who threatens Israeli citizens – along our borders or even far from them.”

The Iranian regime, which views Israel as an implacable foe, has long armed and funded Hezbollah and Palestinian groups fighting against the Jewish state, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In doing so it has often used its Syrian ally as a conduit.

Despite sanctions-hit Tehran’s efforts to conclude an agreement with the international community over its nuclear program, the terror sponsorship has evidently not abated.

Just last week an article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Iran in recent months transferred millions of dollars to Hamas, to boost the group’s missile arsenal and rebuild some of the “terror tunnels” in the Gaza Strip which were destroyed by the Israeli military during last summer’s Israel-Hamas conflict.

In his speech Ya’alon also spoke about the ongoing arming of Hamas, comparing Iran to an “octopus” trying to spread terror.

The last serious conflict on Israel’s northern border occurred in 2006, when a cross-border Hezbollah raid to kill and capture Israeli soldiers triggered a month-long war during which the Shi’ite group fired thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, some reaching as far as Hadera, around 50 miles south of the border.

The war ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire with a Security Council resolution reinforcing earlier demands that “all armed groups in Lebanon” disarm.

In the ensuing years, however, Hezbollah has boasted that it is rearming, with the help of Syria and Iran, in readiness for the next war against Israel.

According to the Levantine Group, a Mideast research and risk consulting firm, the airstrikes north of Damascus were home to “some of the Assad regime’s most loyal and well-equipped units,” including a long-range Scud missile brigade.

The group’s Daniel Nisman said the strikes “underscore a continued Israeli policy of preventing ‘game-changing weapons’ from reaching Hezbollah’s bunkers inside Lebanon.”

Hezbollah was set up with Iran’s assistance in the early 1980s and has been listed by the U.S. as a “foreign terrorist organization” ever since FTO designation was first established under 1996 legislation.

The group’s deadliest attacks included suicide bombings in Beirut in 1983 which killed more than 300 people, including 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French troops.

Israel’s latest reported attacks against the group inside Syria come at a time when a Saudi-led campaign has been targeting another Iranian-backed militia, the Houthis, in Yemen.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and other states in the region have expressed concern that an international nuclear deal with Iran that eases sanctions, along with any improvement in relations with the West, will embolden Iran     to expand its aggressive behavior in the region, both directly and through proxies like Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

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