Wednesday 20 June 2018

'Don't test us,' Israeli leader tells Iran in war of words

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a remnant of what he said was a piece of Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace. Photo: Lennart Preiss/MSC Munich Security Conference/Handout via REUTERS
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a remnant of what he said was a piece of Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace. Photo: Lennart Preiss/MSC Munich Security Conference/Handout via REUTERS

Sarah Elizabeth Williams in Munich

Benjamin Netanyahu opened a war of words with the Iranian foreign minister as he used a speech to brandish a piece of Iranian drone destroyed in Israeli airspace and warn that Iran was the "greatest threat to our world".

Holding what appeared to be a panel of the Iranian drone shot down last week amid tensions between the two powers, the Israeli leader asked Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister: "Do you recognise it? You should, it's yours. Don't test us."

Speaking at a Munich security conference yesterday, Mr Netanyahu appeared to threaten Iran with further retaliation, adding: "We will act if necessary not just against Iran's proxies, but against Iran itself."

Mr Zarif, also speaking at the conference, later dismissed Mr Netanyahu's presentation as "a cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response". He accused the Israeli prime minister of attempting to revive anti-Iranian "hysteria".

Yesterday's gesture comes scarcely a week after military escalation in Syria raised questions about Israel's mantle of military supremacy in the Middle East.

Last Saturday Israel claimed an Iranian drone breached its airspace. An Israeli Apache attack helicopter destroyed it, and in a retaliatory move, Israeli fighter jets were scrambled to Syria, where they attacked a series of high-value targets.

It was the largest battery of Israeli strikes on Syria since 1982, during Lebanon's civil war.

It also carried a heavy price: one of the Israeli jets was hit by Syrian fire, downing the plane. The two pilots ejected over Israel and one is seriously injured.

For Mr Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption charges at home and may welcome the opportunity to flex some foreign policy muscle, the Munich symposium provided an opportunity to sound the alarm on rising Iranian power and gather support to defeat it.

In Syria, the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah has played a pivotal role in supporting the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, all but ensuring his victory.

And in both Syria and Iraq, Iranian troops and Iran-backed militias have played a critical role in battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

Mr Netanyahu warned that Tehran sought to exploit the gap left by Isil for its own advance. He said Iran was "trying to establish this continuous empire surrounding the Middle East from the south in Yemen but also trying to create a land bridge from Iran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza".

"This is a very dangerous development for our region," said Mr Netanyahu.

But Iran's leadership scoffed at his claims. Mr Zarif, who also addressed the conference, called Mr Netanyahu's presentation "a cartoonish circus".

Irish Independent

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