TEL AVIV – The U.S. said Israel has its full support in defending itself after its air force struck Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria on Saturday in response to the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace and the downing of an F-16.
“Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria,” a statement from the White House said on Sunday.
“We call on Iran and its allies to cease provocative actions and work toward regional peace,” the White House added.
In an earlier statement, the State Department said Iran is putting the entire region at risk.
“Iran’s calculated escalation of threat, and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“The U.S. continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.”
The Pentagon also said it backed Israel’s right to defend itself.
“Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people,” said U.S. Defense Department spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway, adding that the U.S. was not involved in Israel’s military response in Syria.
“We share the concerns of many throughout the region that Iran’s destabilizing activities threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran’s malign activities,” he added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will continue to act whatever it needed in order to defend itself from Iranian aggression.
“Israel wants peace but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any attempt by Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said in a filmed statement.
“Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression,” he added.
“I want to clarify: Israel seeks peace but we will continue to defend ourselves resolutely against any attack against us and against any attempt by Iran to establish itself militarily against us in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said.
“Our policy is absolutely clear: Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty,” he added. “Iran made such an attempt today. It brazenly violated our sovereignty, it infiltrated its aircraft into Israeli territory from Syrian territory.”
Netanyahu added that he had conversations with both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have agreed that Israeli-Russian security coordination on Syria will continue.
Putin told Netanyahu to avoid “any steps which might trigger a new spiral of dangerous-for-all confrontation in the region,” the state-owned TASS news agency said.
The Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace and remained there for a minute and a half before being downed by a combat helicopter. Israel launched airstrikes on 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including air-defense batteries and the control center that launched the drone.
“This is both our right and our duty and we will continue to make use of it as necessary. Let no one make a mistake,” Netanyahu said.
Syria downed an Israeli F-16 with an estimated two dozen missiles, injuring two pilots who ejected.
“I have been warning for some time about the dangers of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“This demonstrates that our warnings were 100% correct,” he added. “We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security.”
Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further military action against Iran.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a statement earlier Saturday. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”