Comparing Iran to an octopus sending out terrorist tentacles to attack Israel, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett this week said Jerusalem should start holding the Islamic Republic responsible for the aggression of its proxies in Lebanon and Syria.
In an interview with The Times of Israel’s Persian edition, Bennett argued that for too long Israel has been focusing on fighting Hezbollah on its northern border while giving a free pass to the terrorist group’s patrons in Tehran.
“The Jewish state is not interested in any military confrontation and has great respect for the Iranian people. My approach is to gradually hold Iran itself more and more accountable for its own actions. And to view a rocket being sent from southern Lebanon to Haifa as an Iranian rocket, as opposed to a Hezbollah rocket,” Bennett said.
The Iranian modus operandi is to create proxy armies made up of non-Iranians, the minister said.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “will fight Israel until the last drop of Lebanese blood. We fought the proxy. My point is that the initiator, the instigator of all of this — the head of the octopus, if you will – is the Iranian radical regime. And gradually we’re going to shift focus and also hold them accountable,” he said, adding that the Iranians have Lebanese but also Pakistani and Afghani militias spreading terror across the Middle East.
Bennett, the chairman of the nationalist Jewish Home party refused to elaborate, merely offering that if there’s a bully sending messengers to attack, “the bully cannot forever remain immune.”
“Sometimes when you look at many isolated incidents and you connect the dots, you see the broader picture. And the broader picture is that we have been fighting the tips of the octopus’s arms and shedding blood for many years, while the head of the octopus [Iran] has enjoyed a degree of immunity.”
Israel does not seek conflict, Bennett stressed.
“Israel has absolutely no territorial claims in Lebanon, in Syria, certainly not in Iran. Any conflict that might arise would be a result of aggression sent towards us. We do not seek war with Iran. The natural reaction is that if someone shoots at you, you shoot back to the source of [fire]. Physically, we’re being shot at from Southern Lebanon. So the natural instinct is to go fight the rifle that shoots at you and not ask too many questions about who is giving the orders, who is funding it, who is training it, who is sending it. But we have to think broadly.”
Bennett also addressed Israel’s concerns over the situation in Syria, saying President Assad’s regime “is fairly stable and it seems that they have prevailed.”
“The Iranians, having originally arrived in Syria to support Assad’s weakened army in fending off the rebels, are now seeking to entrench themselves militarily in the country and “establish a direct Iranian threat on Israel. Thirty years ago, the Islamic Republic succeeded in “Iranicizing” Lebanon via Hezbollah and now it is trying to do the same in Syria. We view this as an Iranian desire to create regional hegemony, and to wrap Israel on its various flanks, and that is unacceptable from our perspective,” Bennett said.
Bennett declined to discuss what Israel’s red lines are in this regard and how it intends to enforce them.
“Those who need to know, know. We’ll let our actions speak louder than words,” he offered. “Suffice it to say that we won’t allow Iran to establish ongoing military presence in Syria.”
At the same time, he reiterated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared intention to do everything necessary to prevent Tehran from establishing itself militarily in Syria Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday of Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, as his official visit to Paris and Brussels was winding down.
“If Iran makes good on its threat, it will do so by utilizing 80,000 Shiite fighters, which will cause religious wars to erupt again,” Netanyahu said in a press briefing before returning to Israel.