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Netanyahu's speech was the first direct threat by an Israeli leader against Iran

'Don't test us', he told the Iranian foreign minister in the audience

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a part of the Iraninan drone at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a part of the Iraninan drone at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday (Photo: Flash90)

    Benjamin Netanyahu’s well-known love for stage props makes for a compelling speech but sometimes serves to mask the true portent of what he is actually saying. 

    He waved a singed fragment of the Iranian drone shot down by Israel on February 10 and spoke directly to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif, who was sitting in the audience at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. 

    “Do you recognise it?,” he asked him. “You should, it’s yours. Don’t test us.”  

    But this distracted from the most important message of his speech.

    “We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself,” the prime minister said, issuing the first direct threat by an Israeli PM to act militarily against Iran. 

    This wasn’t just sabre-rattling. Mr Netanyahu was talking just eight days after what was the first direct military confrontation between the two countries: the Iranian’s drone’s incursion into Israeli airspace and Israel’s subsequent attack on the Iranian control centre which had launched the drone, deep inside Syria near Palmyra. 
     
    Mr Netanyahu was acknowledging that the rules of engagement between the two countries have changed. 

    Both Jerusalem and Tehran now clearly understand that their shadow-boxing routine in Syria over the last seven years could be a lot more direct, and very soon. 

    Israeli intelligence is not quite clear yet on why the Iranians launched the drone themselves instead having Hezbollah, Hamas or the Syrian regime do it for them, as they have in the past. 

    The working theory is that the drone was on a reconnaissance mission and that, because the Sadegh 441 is Iran’s most advanced drone, it was not given to a proxy to use. But the fact that Iran acted directly is still something that baffles Israeli observers.  

    There are also implications for the future of Russian intervention in Syria. Until now, Vladimir Putin believed he could balance between Israeli and Iranian interests in Syria; that seems to be coming to an end. 

    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attempted a measured tone on Monday by condemning those who call for Israel’s destruction while adding: “we oppose attempts to view any regional problem through the prism of fighting Iran.” 

    But he is only playing with time. Mr Netanyahu was speaking the unavoidable truth at Munich.

    A red line has been crossed in Syria and nothing can be as it was before.

    With neither Israel or Iran looking like they will back down, it will be up to Mr Putin to find a way of preventing another deadly development in the Syrian war. 

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