Israeli leaders consider U.S strikes on Iran-backed Iraqi militia as a “potential turning point” in the campaign against Tehran which they had claimed earlier they were fighting "alone".
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Calcalist financial newspaper Israeli Air Force chief Major General Amikam Norkin said the current situation in the region due to the threats posed by Iran is critical, The Times of Israel reported on December 31.
"The American strike two days earlier in Iraq is a potential turning point," the military chief said while stressing that the Israel Defense Forces’ aerial superiority is a critical feature of the country’s national security strategy.
According to The Times of Israel , before the U.S. airstrikes Israeli officials lamented that the Jewish state was alone in the fight against Iran in the Middle East.
In his speech, General Norkin praised Israeli Defense Forces' aerial supremacy in the face of Syrian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries, which he said enables Israel to counter Iran's military activities in the region.
Norkin said Israel is facing "one of the most densely packed surface-to-air missile arrays in the world" in the north and as well as S-300 and S-400 air defense systems that Russia gave to Syria last year and added: "In no other place in the world does an air force deal with these types of threats". Norkin stressed that this poses a more complex challenge to Israel.
On Monday the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone talk after which in a tweet he said he had "commended him on the important US action against Iran and its proxies in the region."
Israel Katz, the Foreign Minister of Israel, on Sunday welcomed the strike and also called it a "turning point in the regional response to Iran and its proxies". "If Iran fails to understand the power of the U.S. they will be making a big mistake," he said.
The Israeli Foreign minister also said Israel will respond powerfully if Iran tries to drag them into the current crisis in Iraq "beyond demonstrators screaming "death to Israel" and added that Iran has a mistaken understanding of the essence of the power of the United States.
"Not only Secretary of State, but also President Trump said that this attack on the embassy was carried out by Iran and that it would be answered," Katz said and added that "the response can be very harsh" as the U.S. has proved that when it decides to respond, it does it powerfully as proved by history.
According to Haarez Israeli Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff Aviv Kochavi on December 28 for the first time almost directly clarified that Israel is thwarting Iranian arms shipments while they are being smuggled through Iraq. "Israel will not allow this to go on," he was quoted as saying.
Kochavi also lamented that Israel was left "alone" to deal with Iran in the region, Haarez said, presumably referring to its ally, the United States, which had not shown a decisive response to Iran's increasing influence in the region until then.
In a speech on December 25 Kochavi noted that in the past year, Iran has become much more active and on the offense throughout the Middle East but had met with “no reply, no counteraction, no retaliation". "This means that the Iranians are becoming more emboldened, which could have implications for Israel," the Jewish News Syndicate quoted him as saying.
“They tried to do this [attacks] against us a number of times in the past year. They changed their policy towards us, too, but we responded. And we’ll continue to respond. Yet we understand that because of Iran’s change in policy and the lack of replies east of us, their self-confidence is growing," Kochavi said and added that the possibility of limited or more than limited conflict was not unreasonable.
Israel considers the increasing Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria a security threat and has been launching strikes on the positions of Iranian allies in Iraq. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that it has authorized the Israeli army to counter Iranian influence "anywhere in the region".
Some Israeli commentators and officials believe that deepening hostilities between Iran and the U.S. in the region, such as what happened in Iraq, may benefit Israel.
In a commentary in Yedioth Ahronot on Tuesday Alex Fishman, a senior analyst, said should Iran decide to retaliate for the American attack on its militias, it would be playing into the hands of those in Jerusalem who are advocating the use of Iran's growing unpopularity in Iraq and its economic crisis at home to push the Islamic Republic out of Syria altogether.
"If Tehran decides to bring Israel into the conflict as leverage against the United States, Jerusalem will be forced to engage in battle with Iranian forces in Syria and perhaps Lebanon as well," Fishman wrote and predicted that the new year will likely see a military conflict between Iranian and American forces of which the American attack on the Iraq-based Hezbollah Brigade militia on Sunday was a first indication.