JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Israel’s “full support” for airstrikes on Syrian targets in retaliation for the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the rebel-held town of Douma.
“A year ago, I declared Israel’s full support for President Trump’s decision to take a stand against the use and spread of chemical weapons. President Trump’s resolve and Israel’s support remain unchanged. Early this morning, under American leadership, the United States, France and the United Kingdom demonstrated that their commitment is not limited to proclamations of principle,” Netanyahu said in a statement released on Saturday night after the end of the Jewish Sabbath.
“It should be clear to President Assad that his reckless efforts to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, his wanton disregard for international law and his provision of a forward base for Iran and its proxies endanger Syria,” the statement also said.
Netanyahu on Saturday ordered his government ministers not to comment on the American-led strike in coalition with Britain and France. The directive came after Housing Minister Yoav Galant praised the attack. Several opposition party leaders also issued statements praising the retaliation for the use of chemical weapons.
Israel reportedly was informed ahead of the airstrikes.
The pre-dawn Saturday morning attack targeted a scientific research facility near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs, and military installation near Homs including a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility. The three targets reportedly had had been evacuated last week out of fear of retaliatory strikes.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied that his troops used chemical weapons and threatened to “crush terrorism” throughout his country.
In an address to the nation at about 9 p.m. as the attacks were being carried out, President Donald Trump said: “A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
Trump later tweeted: “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
No additional strikes are currently planned, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters.
Later on Saturday, the 15-member United Nations Security Council rejected a Russian resolution condemning the attack on Syria during an emergency session called in the wake of the airstrikes. Russia, China, and Bolivia voted in favor of the resolution, while Peru, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, and Equatorial Guinea abstained. Eight countries voted against the resolution: the US, Britain, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Kuwait, and Ivory Coast.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council during the meeting: “Last night, we successfully hit the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons enterprise, and because of these actions, we are confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program. I spoke to the president this morning and he said that if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.”
At the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s support for the retaliatory airstrikes and added that “Israel welcomes the participation of British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emanuel Macron in this action.”
Netanyahu said that he spoke on Saturday night with May. “I told her that the important international message of the attack is zero tolerance for the use of non-conventional weapons. I added that this policy needs to also be expressed in preventing terrorist states and groups from having nuclear abilities. I reiterated that the main element that is subverting the Middle East more than any other is Iran, and that President Assad must understand that when he allows Iran and its proxies to establish a military presence in Syria, he is endangering both Syria and the stability of the entire region,” Netanyahu said.
A senior Israeli source was quoted on Channel 10 news Saturday night as saying that the Israeli defense establishment is concerned that in the wake of the attack the Trump administration will withdraw from Syria, as Trump has said in recent days that he plans to do. If the U.S. withdraws from Syria, the source told Channel 10, “Israel remains alone, facing the threat of Iran establishing itself on the northern border.”
The Israeli army said on Friday that an Iranian drone that infiltrated into Israeli airspace in February, leading to an Israeli retaliatory raid, was loaded with explosives and on an attack mission.