Netanyahu Tells Putin, Tillerson: Israel Will Defend Itself Against Any Attack From Syria

Prime minister says Iran violated Israel's sovereignty with drone infiltration. Putin urges Netanyahu to avoid any steps that would lead to a new confrontation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot meet in Tel Aviv, Israel February 10, 2018
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he made it clear  to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that Israel will defend itself against any attack coming from Syria.

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The Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country and struck the Iranian site from which it was launched. Syrian air-defense missiles hit an Israeli F-16 fighter jet, prompting the pilots to eject. Following the downing of the jet, Israel carried out what an Air Force general said was the "largest and most significant" strike in Syria since 1982.

"Our policy is clear," Netanyahu said. "Israel will defend itself against any aggression and any attempt to violate its sovereignty," Netanyahu said. "Iran undertook such attempt today. It violated our sovereignty, and infiltrated its drone into Israeli airspace from Syria."

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Netanyahu said that he told Putin that Israel told Putin that it is "our right and duty to defend ourselves against attacks from Syria." Putin urged Netanyahu to avoid any steps that would lead to a new confrontation in the region, Interdax reported, citing the Kremlin.

The prime minister said he also spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson following the events in Syria. Tillerson is expected to embark this weekend on a five-nation tour of the Middle East, where he will be visiting Egypt, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon.

"Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security," the prime minister added in a statement published in English, as well as in a video released on Twitter.

Netanyahu also said Israel seeks peace, but that it will continue to defend itself against any attack or Iranian attempt to establish itself in Syria, "or anywhere else."

Israel earlier asked the UN Security Council to condemn Iran. Israel's ambassador to the UN called on the panel to "put an end to Iranian provocations."

The Pentagon said Saturday that the United States fully supports "Israel's inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people."

Russia earlier expressed serious concerns about the latest developments in Syria and called on the sides to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of the situation.

"We urge all sides to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "It is necessary to unconditionally respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries in the region." 

Hezbollah said that the downing of an Israeli F-16 marks the "start of a new strategic phase." The group said in a statement that "Today's developments mean the old equations have categorically ended."

Iran, meanwhile, issued its first official response to the events, with its Foreign Ministry rejecting as "ridiculous" reports that Israel had intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria.