Netanyahu confirms Israel attacked Syria
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel attacked Iranian targets in Syria on Monday, before he boarded a plane to Warsaw on Tuesday for a US-Polish sponsored conference.
Netanyahu said that Israel acts everyday – “including yesterday” – against Iran and its efforts to entrench itself in Syria and the region. Foreign reports on Monday said Israeli tank shells struck two Iranian targets in southwestern Syria.
Netanyahu also said the Warsaw conference will unite many countries – including some in the region – against Iranian aggression and its desire to conquer the Mideast and destroy Israel.
The conference – officially called the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East – will include representatives from at least 10 Arab states.
Netanyahu is the only head of government scheduled to attend, with 60 other states sending representatives at the ministerial or deputy ministerial level.
US Vice President Mike Pence will also attend, and is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Thursday. The prime minister is also scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Prime Minister’s Office has not announced whether he will meet any of the representatives of the Arab countries scheduled to attend.
Asked whether he would meet any Arab leaders, Netanyahu said, “I plan on seeing everyone in one big room.”
Netanyahu said it was “refreshing” to see the conference take place on European soil.
“There is a curious thing happening in Europe,” he said. “Iran is actually sending its terrorist squads. They have already killed people in Europe. It is sending its terrorists there. And at the same time, certain European governments are courting Iran and trying to curry favor with them and give them advantages, and find ways to go around the American sanctions.”
The prime minister called the situation “mind boggling,” and added, “This is not the first time we have seen this folly in certain parts of Europe.”
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz announced earlier this week that the Middle East countries – in addition to Israel – sending representatives would include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia.
The Palestinian Authority turned down an invitation, and called on other Arab countries not to attend. It argued that the real goal of the parley is promote normalization between Israel and the Arab countries. The PA opposes normalization until an agreement is reached with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution along 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Czaputowicz said, “A dozen or so countries have not replied to our invitation while a few decided not to come.” He did not name the countries which declined the invitation, but among the states noticeably absent in the list he gave were Qatar, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Turkey.
ON THURSDAY, the central day of the conference, the leaders of Turkey and Iran will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi to discuss the situation in Syria.
Czaputowicz said all 28 European Union countries will be represented at the Warsaw conference.
Pompeo announced the meeting during a visit to Bahrain in January. He said at the time that the conference would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
Since then, however, the anti-Iranian aspect of the meeting has been downplayed, in favor of a focus on peace and security issues in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, when Netanyahu discussed the conference at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting he said, “The first issue on the agenda is Iran – how to continue preventing it from entrenching in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region, and above all, how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Before boarding his plane, Netanyahu said, “This is a conference that unites the United States, Israel and many countries in the world, and many countries in the region – Arab countries – against Iran’s aggressive policies, its aggression, and its desire to conquer the Middle East and destroy Israel.”
Even though the Palestinian Authority is not sending a representative, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is expected to be discussed among the participants, as Jared Kushner – US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law – and Jason Greenblatt – the president’s special representative for international negotiations – are scheduled to attend. The two are expected to roll out Trump’s long-awaited Mideast peace blueprint sometime after the April 9 Israeli elections, and reportedly will update participants at the meeting on the plan.
Netanyahu is not scheduled to meet with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during his visit. The Polish prime minister, along with his Visegrad counterparts from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, will be coming to Jerusalem next week for a summit of the Visegrad countries.
Israeli-Polish ties were badly strained last year over Polish legislation – later amended – that would have made it a crime to assert that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.
Netanyahu is scheduled on Thursday to go the Ghetto Heroes Monument at the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto, which commemorates the 1943 ghetto uprising. He is also scheduled to visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at the same site.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.