Avigdor Liberman speaks at the Saban Forum.
(photo credit: SABAN FORUM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reiterated Israel’s position that it will “not allow the concentration of Iranian and Hezbollah forces on the Golan Heights” while in Moscow on Wednesday.
Lavrov meets Liberman in Moscow (credit: REUTERS)
Speaking with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov while in the Russian capital for the International Moscow Security Conference, Liberman expressed Israel’s concern over Iranian activity in Syria, stating that Tehran is using Syrian soil as a base to smuggle arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Liberman’s comments about Iran were echoed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is also in Moscow for the conference, which is being attended by defense ministers of 24 countries, including Iran and Syria, and the heads of seven international organizations.
Jubeir, who also met with Lavrov, stated that Saudi Arabia “would like to put an end to Iran’s involvement in the region. We believe that they have no place in Syria or in any other part of the world. These groups influence the situations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf countries, Yemen. Hezbollah is carrying out its operations in various Middle East regions and follows Iran’s agenda.”
Responding to Jubeir’s comments, Lavov stated that Iranian forces and Hezbollah are in Syria at the request of Damascus and reiterated Russia’s position on Hezbollah.
“We don’t see Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. We believe that both of them [Iran and Hezbollah] – like Russia’s air force – came to Syria following the request of the legitimate government,” Lavrov said.
Israeli officials have warned several times of the Iranian presence on the northern border, including in March when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Following the meeting, Netanyahu released a statement saying, “I made it clear that regarding Syria, while Israel is not opposed that there should be an agreement there, we strongly oppose the possibility that Iran and its proxies will be left with a military presence in Syria under such an agreement.”
Russia intervened in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad in September 2015, but as an ally Moscow finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran.
With Israel admitting to carrying out air strikes against weapon convoys heading to Hezbollah, and hinting of another one early Thursday against Damascus International Airport, Moscow and Jerusalem have implemented a system over Syria to coordinate their actions in order to avoid accidental clashes.
On Wednesday, Liberman said that “to date, there have been nine meetings between representatives of the IDF and representatives of the Russian military. This mechanism has proven itself to be an effective mechanism that prevents unnecessary friction.”
Liberman also addressed the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, saying that “Hamas collects taxes from Gaza Strip residents, but instead of using it for the welfare of the residents and improving the living conditions in the Strip, it invests them in manufacturing rockets and digging tunnels,” he said.
“The problem is not between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather an internal conflict among Palestinians, inside Fatah, between Hamas and Fatah and really, between Ramallah and Gaza,” Liberman added.
Gaza’s sole functioning power plant shut down last week after fuel supplied by Qatar and Turkey ran out, reducing power supply to the 1.9 million residents of the Strip to just six hours of electricity followed by 12-hour blackouts. The supply of fuel for the Strip has been a source of dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas since the group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007.