It has never been a particularly well-kept secret that Israel has conducted clandestine airstrikes in Syrian territory over recent years. But this week, Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to not only admit that these strikes had occurred, but that they had occurred “dozens” of times.
The Israeli prime minister made this admission accidentally — all thanks to a hot mic.
Netanyahu's remarks came during a meeting with Eastern European leaders in Budapest on Wednesday. Although the meeting occurred behind closed doors, the Israeli leader's microphone remained on and his voice was transmitted to headphones given to reporters earlier.
Speaking to the leaders of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Netanyahu said Israel had specifically targeted Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in Syria, where Hezbollah is helping bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the ongoing civil war.
“We blocked the border not only in Egypt but in the Golan Heights,” he said, according to an account from Haaretz newspaper. “We built the wall because there was a problem with ISIS and Iran trying to build a terror front there. I told [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, when we see them transferring weapons to Hezbollah, we will hurt them. We did it dozens of times.” ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
It's not quite the first time that Israel has acknowledged carrying out military actions in Syria. In late June, Israel announced that it had struck three Syrian army targets in the Golan Heights after errant fire landed in Israeli-controlled territory.
In April, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported that an Israeli airstrike had hit buildings being used to store weapons for Hezbollah near Damascus International Airport. That evening, Israel said it was forced to deploy its Patriot missile defense system to intercept an incoming projectile from Syria — an apparent attempt at retaliation.
But, generally, Israel has declined to talk about such actions. Despite the country's long-standing animosity with the Syrian government and a tense border in the Golan Heights, Israel has tried to keep itself out of Syrian affairs for fear of inadvertently aiding extremist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
It was only recently, as the Syrian war has dragged on, that the situation has evolved. Israel now seems more concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah and other Iran-backed forces helping Assad in Syria, who could end up occupying territory near Israel's border as conflict slows down.
Netanyahu's comments about Syria came in the midst of a broader conversation about the European Union — an institution that he has deemed “crazy” for the way it deals with Israel. “The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel — that produces technology in every area — on political conditions. The only ones. Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said, adding that Russia, China and India remained willing to separate their economic ties from politics.
The incident in Budapest is just the latest moment in Netanyahu's problematic relationship with microphones. In May, his wife, Sara Netanyahu, was overheard making disparaging remarks about the media to President Trump during the latter's visit to Israel. “The majority of the people of Israel, unlike the media, they love us, so we tell them how you are great and they love you,” she was caught on camera saying.
Years earlier, the Israeli leader was on the receiving end of a hot-mic comment. “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy told President Obama during a Group of 20 meeting in Cannes in 2011 — apparently unaware that his microphone remained on. “You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied.
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