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Israel Has Hit 'Thousands of Iranian Targets in Syria' Since 2017, Says Defense Chief

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) is greeted by Israeli chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot as he visits near the Israel-Gaza border area on August 23, 2016 (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) is greeted by Israeli chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot as he visits near the Israel-Gaza border area on August 23, 2016 (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Israeli army's chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot says Israel has attacked "thousands of Iranian targets in Syria" since 2017, adding that "Israel is now safer than four years ago."

Eizenkot, who will be retiring soon, said in a January 11 interview with the New York Times, "We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit."

Israeli media have characterized the details described by Eizenkot in this interview as "unprecedented." Earlier, other Israeli military officials had said that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched over 200 attacks mainly on Iranian targets in Syria during the summer of 2018.

In his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before he retires, General Eizenkot "decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit" for thousands of "undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon," wrote the New York Times.

According to the NYT, Eizenkot's "central intellectual contribution" was the concept of "Campaigns between wars," an idea that degraded Iran's capabilities and made the time distance between wars longer.

Eizenkot named Iran as Israel's main enemy by saying that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza. " “When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you,” said the IDF Chief.

It was this approach that according to the New York Times led Eizenkot to become "the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon," while until 2017 Iranian forces were not directly targeted by IDF.

It was two and a half years ago, when "we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them,” said Eizenkot.

Based on Eizenkot's estimates, by 2016 Iran's Qods Force Commander Qasem Suleimani " "had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops" while Iran had spent $16 billion in Syria in less than seven years.

"We Hope Our Message Is Very Clear" Says Israel's Defense Minister On Iran
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It is the first time a top Israeli officer is claiming responsibility on attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. Previously, Israel did not directly assume responsibility for the attacks and often remained absolutely silent about them. According to Israel, Iran wishes to establish its influence and set up permanent bases at Syria's borders with Israel and to build communication routes to the Mediterranean Sea across Syria.

However, according to Eizenkot, Suleimani made a "strategic mistake" by choosing Syria as a launching pad to attack Israel. "Suleimani's error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

In May 2018, none of more than 30 missiles fired by Suleimani's men hit Israel. And in retaliation, Israel attacked tens of Iranian and Syrian targets.

Meanwhile, according to the Israeli i24News, Eizenkot has been giving a round of interviews to Israeli and international media before retiring next week.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 10 TV, where he assured Israelis that their country is now safer than four years ago, when asked why Soleimani is still alive, Eizenkot replied: “That’s a question.”

However, he answered the question in an interview with Hadashot TV when asked whether he has ever considered "hitting" Qasem Suleimani. Eizenkot said he “did not want to issue threats,” adding, “he who acts against us puts himself in danger,” Eizenkot said.