Israel is already in an ongoing and successful military campaign against Iran’s presence in Syria, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, said on Sunday.
“The fact is, [Iran] doesn’t have any divisions, brigades or even battalions in Syria, in the relevant areas,” Bennett told Ynet. “They don’t have airports or sea ports, and therefore, I think with all the unpleasantness of yesterday’s event, the broader picture is that Israel’s policy is correct, and we will continue it.”
Bennett’s comments came after Israel shot down an Iranian drone that flew into Israeli territory Saturday, and after a Syrian missile struck an Israeli F-16, which the injured pilot landed in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a more vague tack Sunday morning, saying at a Likud ministers’ meeting: “We set clear red lines. We acted and will continue to act according to them.”
Bennett warned against exaggerating the significance of Saturday’s events, saying it is “unpleasant, but nothing more than that,” and that Israel still has freedom of action wherever it needs to go to defend itself, “long before they come close to us.”
“Whatever we do in recent years, they shoot anti-aircraft missiles at us. This wasn’t an unusual action on [the Syrian] side. We’re used to it,” he said.
Bennett explained that Israel “knows how to stop [Iran] from far away, and we’ve only used the tip of our capabilities. We won’t let them in, and we won’t wait until they come to the [border] fences.”
The way to bring calm and stability is to act precisely and firmly over time, the minister explained, saying that not reacting brings quiet in the short term, but can make the situation worse and cost more human lives a few months later.
“Right now [the Iranian] presence in Syria is small. What we did in recent days is to peel the layers of Syrian anti-aircraft defense around Damascus. We exposed [Syrian President Bashar] Assad so that he is naked and vulnerable, and that is just a sample of what we are able to do. We will act methodically and ensure quiet in the long term,” Bennett stated.
Israel is fighting “an Iranian octopus sending its tentacles to squeeze us in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, while the head of the octopus is immune,” Bennett said. “This has been happening for a long time.”
Bennett supports a strategy of “a persistent, consistent campaign that is diplomatic, economic, preventive, involving intelligence and more against the al-Quds forces and Iran, otherwise, you’re fighting the tentacles of the octopus, when you could have neutralized them by neutralizing the octopus’s head.”
Asked if that means he wants war with Iran, Bennett, said no, he wants to create an international coalition against it.
“[Ayatollah] Khamenei is very generous with the lives of Lebanese, of the Iranian militias from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He’s also very generous in sacrificing the lives of Gazans. But at the moment Iranians pay with their lives, he runs away with his tail between his legs, like in Syria. We need to create an equation so he will pay a price,” the minister argued.
As for Russia-Israel relations in light of Moscow’s involvement in Syria, Bennett said he would not go into details.
“I will just say that the bottom line is both militarily and diplomatically, we have full freedom to act,” he stated.