Israel celebrated 70 years since the country’s foundation on Wednesday, lauding its improbable economic success and military prowess, but facing a range of political and security challenges.
The anniversary of the proclamation of the state of Israel by founding father David Ben-Gurion began at sundown on Wednesday under the Hebrew calendar, but falls on May 14 according to the Western calendar.
At the traditional Jerusalem torch-lighting ceremony kicking off what Israelis call Independence Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed what he called “real seeds of peace” he said were beginning to sprout among some of Israel’s Arab neighbours.
He did not elaborate, but there have been signs of warming ties, particularly with Saudi Arabia which — like Israel — sees Iran as a growing threat.
“Our hand is outstretched in peace to all of our neighbours who want peace,” Netanyahu said in Hebrew.
“And to our enemies who think that we are a passing phenomenon, I have news for you: In 70 years from now you fill find here a country seven times stronger than what we have done so far. This is just the beginning!”
The ceremony will be followed throughout the evening by open-air concerts, public dancing and fireworks across Israel.
Earlier, at a remembrance day ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of the “barbaric zealotry of radical Islam” and reiterated warnings about Iran and its presence in neighbouring Syria.
He has said that Israel cannot accept the Islamic republic entrenching itself militarily in the war-torn country, where Tehran is backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
An air strike attributed to Israel on April 9 at Syria’s T-4 airbase left 14 people dead, including seven Iranian personnel.
Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened a response.
Israel has refused to confirm or deny the strike, though satellite photographs were distributed this week through Israeli media purporting to show Iranian drones at airfields in Syria.
Some Israeli analysts interpreted the move as a message to Iran that Israel could strike its positions if it carries out an attack against the Jewish state.
Israel also alleges that a drone which penetrated its airspace in February was sent by Iran “armed with explosives and was tasked to attack”.
It was shot down by an Israeli helicopter, and Israel in retaliation attacked what it said were the drone’s Iranian control systems in Syria.
“The Israeli defence establishment understands that the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard is most likely to be the designated unit that will try to wage an attack against Israel,” an Israeli security source said this week, declining to comment further.
Israel has also reduced its air force’s participation in an exercise in the United States next month, with army radio reporting the decision was due to the tensions.
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