Israel has ‘absolute right to defend itself,’ US Defense Secretary James Mattis says


(JTA) — U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis defended Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

“Israel has an absolute right to defend itself, and I think that’s what happened yesterday,” Mattis told reporters before leaving on a European trip on Sunday.

The Israeli Air Force downed an Iranian drone in airspace over northern Israel on Saturday morning, and followed the infiltration by attacking 12 targets in Syria, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.

Mattis told reporters that the United States was not involved in supporting the airstrikes, but he pointed a finger at Iran.

“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,” Mattis said.

“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, Israeli 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.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Egypt on Sunday, part of a five-nation visit to the Middle East that does not include Israel. Tillerson also is scheduled to visit Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

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