TEL AVIV – Israel held top-level security meetings Wednesday to prepare itself for an assault from Iran or Syria if the U.S. conducts airstrikes on the war-torn country in retaliation for the chemical attack attributed to the Assad regime.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the IDF chief of staff and the head of military intelligence met on Wednesday morning. An unnamed member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet and Israeli strategic affairs experts told Ynet news that it is doubtful Syria would risk direct conflict with Israel. However, security officials were taking seriously Iran’s threat to respond to Monday’s strike on the T-4 airbase – attributed to but not claimed by Israel.
“We have to be prepared for any scenario. Iran is a dangerous and serious enemy that should not be underestimated,” Zeev Elkin, a member of the security cabinet, told Army Radio.
“I won’t get into the operational details, but we are constantly in touch with the Americans. They are our strategic partner and our defense establishment is in constant contact with them,” Elkin said.
“As for the question whether an American operation will draw a (Syrian) response against Israel: theoretically it’s possible but I’m not sure this is the most likely scenario,” Elkin said. “It’s possible Iran will attempt a response against us.”
Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin wrote on Twitter that “the Iranians will probably respond to the strike attributed to Israel, even if not immediately.”
Monday’s airstrike targeted an Iranian airbase in Syria, an Israeli TV report said Wednesday. The Iranians will retaliate “almost certainly from Syria,” the Channel 10 report said. Despite the pretense of innocence, Russia almost certainly was aware of the Iranian base, the report said. It quoted Arab sources as saying that Russia may boost the Assad regime’s defenses against future attacks from Israel.
Iran lost “a significant asset” and maybe “even an entire system” in the strike, the report said.
Monday’s strike left at least 14 people dead, reportedly including seven Iranian military personnel. Footage of the Iranian bodies arriving back in Iran to crowds chanting “Death to Israel” was shown on Israeli TV.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Russia to “get ready” because “nice and new” missiles would be targeting Syria. Trump also slammed the Russians for allying themselves with a “Gas Killing Animal,” in reference to Saturday’s toxic gas attack in Douma which saw 42 people killed and many others gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. Both Syria and Russia denied the attack took place.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump tweeted. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Within an hour, Trump tweeted again: “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”
Moscow responded by saying that it would view a U.S. airstrike on Syria as a “war crime.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday said the U.S. was ready “to provide military options if they are appropriate as the president determines.”