Hezbollah fighter walk near a military tank in Western Qalamoun, Syria August 23, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel will continue to carry out strikes in Syria despite a US-Russian cease-fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday after reports that the deal would allow Iranian troops to remain only 5 km. from Israel’s border.
Speaking during the weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu described Israel’s security policy as “the right combination of firmness and responsibility” and said he has told Moscow and Washington that Israel will continue carrying out strikes in Syria despite the cease-fire agreement “in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs.”
Netanyahu has publicly criticized the cease-fire deal, saying that it does not include any provisions to stop Iranian expansion in the area. In recent months Jerusalem has held talks with Moscow, Washington and Amman in an attempt to ensure that the agreement would define the buffer zone some 40 km. from Israel’s borders.
The border with Syria has been tense since war erupted in 2011, and Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran. Due to those concerns Israel has admitted to carrying out some 100 air strikes against Hezbollah targets and weapons convoys over the past five years; dozens more have been attributed to the Jewish state.
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz reiterated Israel’s redlines on Monday, stating that “Israel has already made it clear that it shall not accept Iran and its affiliates and proxies basing themselves in Syria, which will be a permanent threat and a constant source of tension, friction and instability.”
On Saturday Russia committed itself to working with the Assad regime to remove Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias like Hezbollah, as well as foreign jihadis working with Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups from Syria’s southwest.
As an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran, the patron of Hezbollah.
Russia, which views Iran as a key player in resolving the crisis in Syria, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the role that the Islamic Republic plays in the wartorn country.
The Iranian presence so close to the borders “is a real danger to Israel’s security and to regional stability in general,” former defense minister Amir Peretz said on Monday, adding that Netanyahu “must use all political and other tools to remove the Shi’ite axis from the borders of Israel,” alluding to possible military action against Iran and its proxies despite the cease-fire.
As the war in Syria seems to be winding down in Assad’s favor due to Moscow’s intervention, Israel fears that Iran will help Hezbollah produce accurate precision-guided missiles and help them and other Shi’ite militias strengthen their foothold in the Golan Heights.
On Saturday following the interception of a drone by an IDF Patriot missile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman repeated Israel’s warnings to Iran and Hezbollah saying that Israel “will not allow the Shi’ite axis to establish Syria as its forefront base.”
Last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly told Israel that Moscow has agreed to expand the buffer zone by 10-15 km. – where Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to enter – along the Israeli-Syrian border.
The statement, attributed to an Israeli diplomatic official by London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, said Russia had refused the Israeli request for a 40 km. (25 mile) buffer zone, but expressed willingness to extend a 10-15 km. off-limits zone.
Shoigu is reported to have told Israeli officials that the 40-km.
demand was unrealistic and that Iranian and Hezbollah troops have not approached the border since Russian troops entered Syria, saying that therefore the request was “exaggerated” and “superfluous.”
According to a senior American official, the tripartite deal signed on Saturday will eventually see all foreign terrorists and militia fighters leave the war-torn country. But as Israel’s intelligence minister said, while the Jewish state views the cease-fire agreement “favorably” in terms of moving Iran and its militias, including Hezbollah, from the area, “the test will be on the ground, not in words but in deeds.”