Peter Beaumont — The Guardian Aug 30, 2017
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has accused Iran of building sites to produce missiles in Syria and Lebanon during a meeting with the UN secretary general, António Guterres – part of increasingly bellicose rhetoric from Israel and the US against Tehran.
The remarks, made by Netanyahu at the beginning of a meeting with Guterres on Monday, come against a background of growing Israeli anxiety over the expanding Iranian influence on its northern border.
Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel”.
He added: “It is also building sites to produce precision-guided missiles towards that end, in both Syria and in Lebanon. This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”
Israel has pointed to Tehran’s steadily increasing influence in the region during the six-year-old Syrian conflict, whether via its own Revolutionary Guard forces or Shia Muslim proxies, especially Hezbollah.
Netanyahu’s remarks follow recent comments by the fiercely pro-Israel US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. She accused the UN peacekeeping commander in Lebanon, Maj Gen Michael Beary, of being “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and reiterated a call for the force to do more about it.
“Gen Beary says there are no Hezbollah weapons,” Haley said. “That’s an embarrassing lack of understanding on what’s going on around him.”
Beary pushed back at US and Israeli criticism, saying his force had no evidence of weapons being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the area, and that “if there was a large cache of weapons, we would know about it”.
Earlier in August, Israeli media broadcast what it said were images from Israel’s Eros B satellite, showing a site in north-west Syria near the town of Baniyas that it claimed was intended to be a missile storage site.
It has become clear that the Netanyahu government and senior Israeli defence officials badly misjudged the trajectory of the war in Syria, which Israel had hoped would turn into a quagmire for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s key ally, Iran, and for Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
However, after the intervention of Russia on Assad’s side, the war has swung in favour of the Syrian president and his allies, prompting Israeli officials to become increasingly concerned by a “day after” scenario that would mean Iranian power being projected on to its doorstep.
Guterres arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-night trip. In his first official visit to the country, he is expected to discuss the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as ways to promote the moribund peace process between Israel and Palestine.
“I dream that I will have the chance to see in the Holy Land two states able to live together in mutual recognition, but also in peace and security,” Guterres said at Netanyahu’s office on Monday.
Guterres spoke of improving economic and social conditions for Palestinians to provide them with a “dividend” and incentive for peace. He is due in Ramallah on Tuesday for talks with the Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah.
Netanyahu’s remarks to Guterres on Iran follow his warning to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, this month that Israel might be prepared to act unilaterally to prevent Tehran establishing a garrison on the country’s doorstep.
Meeting Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Netanyahu said Iran – which Russian officials have said has had a stabilising influence in Syria – was fighting to cement an arc of influence from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.
“Iran is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and, to a large extent, is already in practice in control of Lebanon,” Netanyahu told Putin.
“We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel,” he added. “Israel opposes Iran’s continued entrenchment in Syria. We will be sure to defend ourselves with all means against this and any threat.”