US Defense Secretary: 'Israel Has Absolute Right to Defend Itself'

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, meets with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman before attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Feb. 17, 2017. (DoD/Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirmed Israel's right to defend itself by carrying out preemptive strikes against Iranian military targets in Syria.

"I think you're all aware of when the [Iran's] Quds Force leadership is in Iraq or in Syria. So when Syria, which 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," Mattis said in a press briefing Sunday.

"They don't have to wait until their citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue," he affirmed.

'Everywhere We Find Trouble,' Iran Is Involved

"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," Mattis stressed.

"If you live in the region, there's no doubt what Iran is doing. 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."

Israel has long warned about the involvement of its arch-enemy, Iran, including its terror proxy, Hezbollah, in Syria. Issues of concern include a "Shiite corridor" with land links from Iran to Lebanon, providing free movement for terrorists and weapons across the region.

In an interview with the BBC in November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran wanted to bring its air force and submarines, as well as its military divisions, very close to Israel.

Asked whether Israel would use military force to stop such developments, Netanyahu responded: "You know, the more we're prepared to stop it, the less likely we'll have to resort to much greater things. There is a principle I very much adhere to, which is to nip bad things in the bud."

This article originally appeared at unitedwithisrael.org.

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