White House Backs Israel, Calls on Iran to Cease 'Provocative Actions' Amid Hostilities

The statement from the Pentagon added that the U.S. seeks 'greater international resolve in countering Iran's malign activities'

Israeli army in the Golan Heights, February 10, 2018
Gil Eliahu

WASHINGTON – The United States expressed its support for Israel on Saturday after a day of hostilities on both sides of the Syrian-Israeli border, with the White House issuing a response relating to the recent developments between Israel, Iran and Syria.

In the statement, released 24 hours after the initial events on the Israeli-Syrian border, the White House said: "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. We call on Iran and its allies to cease provocative actions and work toward regional peace."

To really understand the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Earlier Saturday both the Pentagon and the State Department released statements in the same vein, reinforcing American support for Israel against Iranian provocations.

In the first official American response to the event, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense emphasized "Israel's inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people."

In the statement, released some 12 hours after Israel shot down an Iranian drone that entered its airspace, and later bombed Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, the Pentagon stated that the U.S. seeks "greater international resolve in countering Iran's malign activities" across the Middle East. As of Saturday evening, there had been no additional comments from the White House.

Hours later, the State Department issued a statement which said "the United States is deeply concerned" about the events, but also stressed that the U.S. "strongly supports Israel's sovereign right to defend itself."

The statement, attributed to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, added that "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." The State Department called on Iran to end its "behavior that threatens peace and stability."

The American response came hours after Russian one. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it is urging "all parties involved to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation." It further added that Russia considers it "necessary to unconditionally respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries of the region."

Russia is closely aligned with the Assad regime and with Iran in Syria.

WATCH: Israeli Attack Helicopter Brings Down Iranian Drone Infiltrating From Syria ■ Despite strikes, Netanyahu struggles to draw red lines in Putin's Syria playground ■ Seven comments on the escalating Israeli-Iranian game of chicken in Syria ■ With newfound confidence, Assad moves from threats to action

The Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country's airspace and struck Iranian targets in Syria that launched it. 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.

The events in northern Israel and southern Syria this weekend unfolded just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was about to embark on a trip to the Middle East, which is supposed to include stops in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. While the original itinerary of the trip was supposed to focus on a range of regional issues, it is now expected to focus on avoiding further escalation in Syria.