'Killing Iranians for two years' in Syria: Israeli minister

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi was referring to Israeli attacks in Syria on Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

    A 2017 photo of Hanegbi, left, during a news conference in Jerusalem [File: Ronen Zvulun/AP]
    A 2017 photo of Hanegbi, left, during a news conference in Jerusalem [File: Ronen Zvulun/AP]

    An Israeli minister has boasted his country is the only one that "has been killing Iranians" in comments that come in the backdrop of rising tensions between Western powers and Iran in the Gulf.

    "Israel is the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for two years," Israel's Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Sunday in an interview with the Israeli radio station Kan Bet.

    "We strike the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes we acknowledge it and sometimes foreign reports reveal it," he said.

    The minister was referring to hundreds of Israeli attacks in neighbouring Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.

    Hanegbi accused Iran, Israel's main enemy, of seeking to create "chaos" and "harm freedom of navigation".

    In response, Iran's state-run news outlet Press TV tweeted: "This is how Israelis are freely and proudly talking about killing Iranians! Just imagine what would happen if it was the other way around!"

    When asked if he feared that Israel would not receive the backing of the United States in case of a conflict with Iran, Hanegbi suggested Tehran would avoid such a scenario.

    The minister added that the Iranians "are very restrained in their responses and it's not because they don't have abilities, but because they understand that Israel means business".

    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke along the same lines last week during an interaction with the cadets of the National Security College.

    "At the moment, the only army in the world to fight Iran is the Israeli army," he said.

    Earlier this month, Netanyahu had warned that Israeli fighter jets "can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran".

    In June, the Israeli PM had said: "Israel has acted hundreds of times to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, while it actively and openly calls and works for [Israel's] destruction." 

    Remark amid Gulf tensions

    The Israeli minister's remarks came amid the seizure of a British-flagged tanker by Iran on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, escalating tensions between London and Tehran.

    The United Kingdom-Iran spat has added to the ongoing tensions in the Gulf unleashed by US President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015.

    Earlier this month, Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar based on allegations that Iran was smuggling oil to Syria in defiance of sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

    Last month, Iran shot down a US drone flying over its territory that almost led to a US military attack on Iran, which Trump called off at the last minute.

    On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the deployment of around 500 US military personnel to Saudi Arabia as "an additional deterrent" in the face of "emergent, credible threats" in the region.

    SOURCE: News agencies