JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has launched dozens of strikes in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, acknowledging for the first time such attacks against suspected arms transfers to Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas.
Though formally neutral on Syria’s civil war, Israel has frequently pledged to prevent shipments of advanced weaponry to the Iranian-backed group, while stopping short of confirming reports of specific air operations.
Visiting Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights near the frontier with Syria, Netanyahu said: “We act when we need to act, including here across the border, with dozens of strikes meant to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining game-changing weaponry.”
Netanyahu did not specify what kind of strikes Israel had conducted in Syria. He also gave no timeframe or other details regarding the strikes.
Israel welcomed the cessation of hostilities in Syria in February but has indicated it could still launch attacks there if it sees a threat from Hezbollah, which holds sway over southern Lebanon and whose fighters have been allied with President Bashar al-Assad.
Israeli leaders have sought assurances from Russia, which sent forces to Syria last year to help Assad, that it would not allow Iran and Hezbollah to be bolstered by the partial military withdrawal that Moscow announced last month.
Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to prevent any accidental clash between their aircraft over Syrian territory.
Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006 that included rocket strikes inside Israel and an Israeli air and ground offensive in Lebanon.
Israeli leaders have said that since that conflict, Hezbollah has built up and improved the range of a rocket arsenal that can now strike deep inside Israel.
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Gareth Jones