16:41 GMT17 February 2020
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    Israel has repeatedly targeted what it says are Iranian or Iranian-backed forces in the Syrian Arab Republic. Iran maintains that its Syria presence is aimed at helping Damascus fight terrorists.

    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi has responded to Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett’s warning urging Tehran to get out of Syria, telling reporters that Iran would continue to defend its interests both in Syria and throughout the Middle East, and warning Israel against escalatory behaviour.

    “The Islamic Republic of Iran will show a crushing and regrettable response to any act of aggression or stupid move from that Zionist regime against our country’s interests in Syria and the region,” Mousavi said, his remarks published on the foreign ministry's website.

    Mousavi noted that Iran “has been present in Syria at the invitation and with the agreement of that country’s government with the purpose of fighting against terrorism sponsored by the US and Israel.” The spokesman warned that Tehran “will not hesitate for a moment over safeguarding its presence in Syria and defending its national security and regional interests.”

    The official’s comments come on the heels of remarks by Bennett on Tuesday warning Tehran that it had “nothing to look for in Syria.”

    “When an octopus’s tentacles hit you, don’t just fight back against those arms, but strangle the head as well. That’s how we must deal with Iran,” Bennett said. According to the official, Israel has been “fighting the arms of the Iranian octopus in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza” for “generations.”

    “Now we are changing the concept: we are engaged in an ongoing campaign to weaken the Iranian octopus head itself, through economic, policy, intelligence and military action, as well as other dimensions,” the minister said. Accusing Iran of “trying to build terrorist bases” in Syria, Bennett warned that Israel would “only increase the hurt on you.”

    In his response Wednesday, Mousavi claimed that Israel was founded on occupation, “upon carnage, the plundering of assets of other nations, terror and aggression over the past 70 years.”

    Israeli Air Raids

    Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Syria in recent years, targeting what Tel Aviv says are ‘Iranian’ or ‘Iran-backed’ forces in the war-torn country which allegedly pose a threat to Israel. Damascus has repeatedly blasted Israel’s actions, stressing that Iranian forces in the country were there to assist in the fight against terrorism. Syria has also appealed repeatedly to the United Nations over Israeli aggression and the violation of its territorial integrity.

    Last Friday, four Israeli F-16s conducted a raid on Damascus. The Russian Defence Ministry slammed the strikes, revealing that a civilian Airbus-320 with 172 passengers and crew onboard was nearly shot down at the time of the attack and had to be diverted to the Hmeymim airbase in Latakia to ensure its safety. The Russian military said that it had become common practice for the Israeli Air Force to hide behind unarmed or civilian aircraft to shield their own planes from Syrian air defences.

    Related:

    US Senate Advances War Powers Resolution to Limit US Military Action in Iran
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