Jerusalem — Israel could respond to any Iranian attack on it from Syria by toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, an Israeli security cabinet minister says, hinting that Assad may be targeted for assassination.
Israel and Iran have traded blows over Syria since February, stirring concern that major escalation could be looming ahead of next week’s review decision by US President Donald Trump on the 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran.
On April 9, an air strike killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members at a Syrian base. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed unspecified retaliation, drawing Israeli counter-threats to broaden attacks on Iranian military assets in Syria.
Sharpening these warnings, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday that Assad might find himself in Israel’s sights.
"If Assad allows Iran to turn Syria into a military vanguard against us, to attack us from Syrian territory, he should know that would be the end of him, the end of his regime," Steinitz told the Ynet news site.
Asked if that meant Israel might assassinate Assad, Steinitz said: "His blood would be forfeit." He also appeared to suggest that his remarks did not reflect Israeli government policy, saying: "I’m not talking about any concrete proposal."
There was no immediate response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office or from Israel’s defence ministry.
A Ynet text story had quoted Steinitz as saying explicitly that Israel would kill Assad, but this was not borne out by a video clip of the interview.
Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and Russia have been reinforcing Damascus against a seven-year-old Syrian rebellion.
The Israelis worry that Iran’s garrison will remain in the country, linking with Hezbollah to form a broad Syrian-Lebanese front against them.
On Sunday, Israeli media carried what they described as an alert by Israel’s intelligence services that Iran was planning a missile salvo against Israeli military bases from within Syria.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for discussions on Syria.
"Whoever is interested in Assad’s survival should do the honour of telling Assad to prevent attacks on Israel," Steinitz said, alluding to Putin.