The American defense secretary gave his full-throated backing on Sunday to Israel’s actions in the aerial exchange of fire over the weekend with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria. James Mattis said that Israel has an “absolute right to defend itself” against Iran in light of the Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria on Saturday, Haaretz reported.
The U.S. military had no involvement in these events, Mattis told reporters before flying to Europe.
“Israel has an absolute right to defend themselves. They don’t have to wait until their citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue,” he said, according to Haaretz.
The Trump administration issued a few statements on the attack, supporting Israel and criticizing Iran’s actions. Mattis told reporters that the Iranian regime is behind the Middle East’s challenges. In his comments Sunday, he railed against Iranian actions in Syria and around the region.
“It is interesting that everywhere we find trouble in the Middle East, you find the same thing behind it. Whether it be in Yemen or Beirut, or in Syria, in Iraq, you always find Iran engaged. If you’re in Bahrain, and the police there have captured explosives and that sort of thing, clearly from Iran; if you’re picking up debris in Saudi Arabia of Iranian missiles; or you’ve got explosive boats, remote-controlled boats, out in the Red Sea, you can see where Iran is either producing the wherewithal for the fight or actually leading the fight, in some case,” the newspaper reported Mattis saying.
Mattis’s comments come after an Iranian drone infiltrated Israel’s airspace on Saturday, then was shot down by Israel, which launched a widespread retaliatory offensive in Syria. The IDF said it hit four Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites, causing significant damage.
“I think you’re all aware of when the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s] Quds Force leadership is in Iraq or in Syria. So when Syria, which has made no — has not hidden at all, made no excuse for what they’re doing alongside Iran, when they are providing throughput for Iran to give weapons, including more sophisticated weapons, to the Lebanese Hezbollah, Israel has an absolute right to defend themselves. They don’t have to wait until their citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue,” Mattis insisted.
Mattis appeared to address Iranian leaders’ claims of a U.S.-Israeli conspiracy in the region to make Iran appear to be the aggressor.
“If Iran only interfered “in two places, I can say, well, it just happened to fall out that way. In three places, it’s starting to look like there’s something to it. And I think the further you are from there, the easier it is to dismiss this as some sort of, you know, Washington, D.C., chicanery or something. [But] if you live in the region, there’s no doubt what Iran is doing,” he said.