Israel’s prime minister tells NATO ambassadors that Israeli intelligence has thwarted “several dozen major terrorist attacks” against countries in Europe — some involving crashing highjacked planes into urban centers. Netanyahu expressed Israel’s growing concern with the de facto control Iran and Hezbollah are gaining over Syria. Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious immediate threat to Israel was posed by Hezbollah, followed by other Iran-supported jihadist groups positioned on the Syrian border.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a meeting with ambassadors of NATO member states, obliquely suggested that Israel has thwarted terrorists’ plans to hijack civilian airplanes and crash them into European cities.
“We have, through our intelligence services, provided information that has stopped several dozen major terrorist attacks, many of them in European countries,” he told the foreign diplomats in the Jerusalem meeting.
“Some of these could have been mass attacks, of the worst kind that you have experienced on the soil of Europe and even worse, because they involve civil aviation. Israel has prevented that, and thereby helped save many European lives,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu and his office declined to provide any details.
The Times of Israel reports that Netanyahu told the ambassadors that Israel contributes to the security of every single member of NATO, noting that Israel fights terrorism fostered by both Sunni and Shiite radical Islamists.
Netanyahu said that ISIS, on the verge of complete defeat in Syria and Iraq, is trying to build an alternative stronghold in Egypt.
“ISIS is being destroyed in Iraq and Syria, but it is trying to establish an alternative territorial base in the Sinai. Israel is contributing to preventing that in myriad ways,” Netanyahu said. “In general, I would say that Israel is the most powerful indigenous force in the Middle East that fights radical Islam.”
The prime minister said that in addition to fighting militant Sunnis, Israel is facing the dominant Shiite power, Iran, and its proxies in the region. Israel not only tries to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – it is also “absolutely committed to preventing Iran from establishing a military base in Syria. And we back our words with action,” he added.
He told the ambassadors that Iran is now working on a plan to deploy 100,000 Shiite fighters – not only from Iran, but from Shiite communities in several Muslim-majority states — to Syria as part of Iran’s quest to become the hegemonic power in region, and, eventually, “conquer” the Middle East.
If Tehran succeeded in fulfilling its hegemonic ambitions, he said, radical Sunni and Shiite forces would clash in Syria, forcing millions of refugees to flee to Europe.
“Where will the spillover [of a Sunni-Shiite clash in Syria] happen? In Europe. Where will the human flow go? To Europe. Who’s preventing that right now? Israel? Right now, Israel alone. But I maintain that it’s a common interest that we have,” he said.
After initially maintaining neutrality in the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Israel began to help the various Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime – including the Islamist al-Nusra Front. The strategic shift came as a result of increasing worries about Iran and its growing military capabilities, and the conclusion that even if Assad would win the war, he would be much weaker than he was before the civil war erupted in 2011.
This weakness would mean that the main forces supporting him – Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – would pursue their own goals in Syria, largely ignoring Assad.
Intelligence and military analysts say that this is what is now happening on the ground in Syria, where Iran and Hezbollah are expanding their control over areas close to the Israeli border.
Israel has been trying to persuade the United States and Russia to keep Iranian forces, Iran-backed Shiite militias, and Hezbollah at least 25 miles away from the Syrian-Israeli border, but without much success.
Russia has quietly told Israel that Russian forces would not fight Iran and Hezbollah in order to keep them in line, but would not stop Israel from doing so. Analysts note that there is a good military information sharing arrangement between Israel and Russia when it comes to operations inside Syria.
The position of the United States is more ambiguous. The Trump administration has employed tough rhetoric in addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but as has been the case with the Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine and Russian commercial support of the North Korean regime, President Trump has been reluctant to take action which would directly confront Vladimir Putin’s policies, even when these policies undermine the interests of the United States and its allies.
Israel is has been increasingly expressing its worries that the Trump administration’s acquiescence in a de facto control of Syria by Iran and Hezbollah, with Russian presence limited to the country’s western coastline, has considerably narrowed Israel’s margin of security.
Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious immediate threat to Israel was posed by Hezbollah, followed by other Iran-supported jihadist groups positioned on the Syrian border.
Eisenkot described Iran as a “multidimensional threat,” highlighting Iran’s desire to obtain nuclear capabilities, followed by its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.