JERUSALEM -- The explosions that rocked the Syrian port city of Latakia last week, destroying a weapons cache, continue to reverberate in regional politics as accusations and denials abound.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to say Sunday whether Israel was responsible for the July 5 attack, as has been reported. “I am not in the habit of saying what we did do or didn’t do,” he told CBS’ Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”
What Netanyahu would say was that his policy is “to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups ... and we stand by that policy.”
The target of the July 5 strike was believed to be a recent Russian shipment of improved Yakhont missiles, anti-ship weapons that Israel fears could target its naval vessels as well as the nation’s gas fields in the Mediterranean.
Israel regards Yakhont missiles and some other weapons systems as game-changers, and it does not want organizations such as Hezbollah to get hold of them.
The latest report on last week’s strike came from Britain’s Sunday Times (subscription required), which quoted “Middle East intelligence sources” saying Israel carried out the strike with a cruise missile fired from one of its Dolphin-class submarines.
Previously, CNN attributed to U.S. sources the claim that Israel had used its air force to strike Latakia. This was denied by Syrian sources.
Heading into the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Israeli politicians continued to shrug off the reports.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told Israeli media, adding that “the less spoken, the better.”
Without specifically commenting on the report, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said “all leaks regarding defense and intelligence are bad, regardless of their source.”
In a separate matter, Netanyahu said in the CBS interview Sunday that Iran was edging closer to building a nuclear weapon, and called the new Iranian president, Hassan Rowhani, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” whose tactic was to “smile and build a bomb.” Rowhani has pledged to be moderate in his policies, in contrast to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“They’re edging up to the red line,” Netanyahu said of the Iranians. “They haven’t crossed it yet. They’re also building faster centrifuges that would enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate -- that is, within a few weeks.”
He said the United States should ratchet up its sanctions against Iran. “And if sanctions don’t work, they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action -- that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”