JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would be prepared to strike within Iran’s borders if it meant ensuring the Jewish state’s survival.
When asked by a reporter if Israel would be prepared to launch an attack on Iranian soil, Netanyahu responded, “The answer to your question is that our red line is our survival.”
“We do what is necessary to protect the State of Israel against the Iranian regime that openly calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state,” Netanyahu told assembled journalists at an annual event held by the Government Press Office in Jerusalem.
“I’m not ruling out doing anything that we need to do to defend ourselves,” he added.
“We’re the only military in the world directly engaging Iranian forces,” Netanyahu said, referencing strikes against Iranian militias and proxies such as Hezbollah in neighboring Syria.
“Hezbollah’s terror tunnels are a clear act of aggression,” Netanyahu said.
Last week, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to detect and destroy cross-border subterranean tunnels that the IDF said Hezbollah was planning to use to infiltrate the Jewish state and launch attacks.
“I hope, I believe Hezbollah will not make the terrible mistake of trying to attack Israel or trying to interfere with our legitimate actions in trying to neutralize these tunnels. If they will, they will suffer much pain and quickly,” he said. “I think they’re smart enough not to try us.”
Netanyahu slammed the Lebanese government for failing to “protest” Hezbollah’s actions. “We do hold them accountable for any aggression that is being perpetrated from their territory,” he said.
He also stated that Israel is in “the process of rolling back Iran’s aggression” and its plan to acquire nuclear weapons. Doing so, he said, has enabled a thawing of relations with Arab states hostile to Iran.
The prime minister then presented a graph which he said featured the outcome of a poll determining the percentage of people around the world who believe Iranian claims that it harbors no nuclear aspirations.
“Forty-three percent [of respondents in the Middle East] say they don’t believe Iran is stopping its military capabilities and mass destruction capabilities, its nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel is a world force in combating terrorism, the Arabs get it,” he stated. “The Arab countries understand exactly that Israel is not their enemy, but their indispensable partner” against extremists.
His comments come amid reports that he is working to formalize ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of Israel’s 2019 elections.
Asked about the the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Netanyahu said that a “balanced” response was needed.
Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month prompted a global outcry calling on the Trump administration to enact sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who intelligence sources said ordered the killing.
The murder was “horrific, nothing short of that,” Netanyahu said, but is “balanced by the importance of Saudi Arabia and the role it plays in the Middle East, because if Saudi Arabia were to be destabilized the world would be destabilized … and I think that has to be taken into account, there’s a balance.”
He also slammed Iran’s condemnation of the murder.
“To have this kind of criticism from countries that themselves practice hangings in the public square of journalists or gays or political dissidents — about 1,500 are executed in Iran each year. To have Iran lecture us on this is absurd,” he said.