Israel won’t confirm role in Syria attack
JERUSALEM — Israel maintained official silence Sunday in response to accusations that it had attacked the Syrian port city of Latakia, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government won’t tolerate weapons transfers to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, one possible destination for the weapons cache destroyed in the assault.
Netanyahu declined to say whether Israel was responsible for the July 5 attack. “I am not in the habit of saying what we did do or didn’t do,” he said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”
But the prime minister said 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 strike on Latakia was believed to be a recent Russian shipment of improved Yakhont anti-ship missiles, which Israel fears could target its naval vessels as well as its Mediterranean gas fields.
Israel regards Yakhont missiles and some other weapons systems as game changers, and it does not want organizations such as Hezbollah to get them.
Britain’s Sunday Times quoted “Middle East intelligence sources” as saying Israel carried out the strike with a cruise missile fired from one of its Dolphin-class submarines. Previously, CNN reported that U.S. sources claimed 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 that Iran was edging closer to building a nuclear weapon, and he called the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose tactic is to “smile and build a bomb.” Rouhani 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. “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.”
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.
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