RIYADH (Reuters) – Israel would retaliate against any Iranian attack on Tel Aviv by striking Tehran, Israel’s defense minister said in remarks published on Thursday, as the arch-foes faced off over Syria.
The comments by Avigdor Lieberman were an unusually explicit Israeli threat to take military action within Iranian territory, and followed a surge of unprecedented confrontations between the countries’ forces in civil war-torn Syria.
“Israel doesn’t want war … but if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, we will hit Tehran,” Avigdor Lieberman told the Arabic-language, Saudi-owned news website Elaph, which is based in London.
Coastal Tel Aviv is Israel’s commercial capital, where its military is headquartered. Iran, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, often threatens strikes on Tel Aviv.
An Israeli-Iranian showdown has loomed since Feb. 10, when Israel said an armed drone sent from a Syrian base penetrated its air space. Israel blew up the drone and carried out a raid on Syrian air defenses in which one of its F-16 jets was downed.
On April 9, an air strike killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members at the Syrian base. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed unspecified retaliation, drawing Israeli counter-threats to broaden attacks on Iranian military assets in Syria.
The Israelis say their strikes aim to prevent Iran’s garrison in Syria from entrenching itself deeper in support of President Bashar al-Assad and linking with Hezbollah in Lebanon to form a broad front against them.
“Every outpost in which we see Iran positioning militarily in Syria, we will destroy, and we will not allow this no matter what the price,” Lieberman told Elaph.
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Sarah Dadouch in RiyadhEditing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William Maclean)