Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits troops in the Golan Heights, August 7, 2018.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The Syrian regime is building a new large-scale army that will surpass its previous strength and dimensions, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday while on a visit to the North.
“We see the Syrian army, which is not satisfied with taking control of all the Syrian territory, is clearly building a new large-scale land army that will return to its previous dimensions and beyond,” Liberman said during a visit to the Armored Corps in the Golan Heights along with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and the head of the Northern Command.
The Syrian Arab Army has been decimated after the seven- year civil war, with thousands killed and hundreds of desertions, but has been rebuilding with Russian help.
“Therefore, we follow all developments and we are ready for any scenario,” Liberman continued, adding “the Armored Corps was and will be the main force of the IDF in every ground maneuver, especially here in the North.”
The Syrian Army, backed by Russian airpower, has been recapturing large swaths of territory, including strategic areas bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights, from rebels and Islamic State group fighters.
Following the offensive in the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, the regime has once again deployed close to Israel’s Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981.
Syrian flag raised in Quneitra on Syrian side of Golan Heights, July 27, 2018 (Reuters)
According to foreign reports, Israeli and Syrian officers are said to have met indirectly several times in the Golan Heights through UN intermediaries, at the request of Russia, to discuss the return of troops belonging to the Assad regime to the area.
To prevent an escalation between the two enemy countries, Russian military police have been deployed along the Golan Heights border along with UN Peacekeeping Forces.
Last week, Liberman said thereturned to its pre-2011 state, since regime forces supported by Russia regained control of the territory it lost in 2014 to rebel groups.
“From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” he said, adding residents in the north should be less wary of a potential flare-up on the border.
“It is also [Basher] Assad’s interest, because he understands what will happen if it does not return to the previous situation, and I assume that he will make his own decisions, however, as I have made clear, we will not give up our security interests,” Liberman added.
But, the defense minister stressed, “this is provided that all three points which are important to us are fulfilled,” reiterating the Syrian regime must strictly adhere to the Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria of 1974, that Syrian soil cannot serve as a forward operating base by Iran against Israel, and that Syria cannot be a way station for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“As soon as all three conditions are fulfilled, we have no interest in interfering or operating within Syrian territory. As soon as it does not exist, we will act in accordance with the security interest of the State of Israel.”
The defense minister also praised the reinstatement of US sanctions on Iran, noting the money Tehran got from the lifting of them in 2015 as part of the Iran deal helped fund terror around the world.
“The renewal of sanctions on Iran is a necessary step, especially from those who are fighting terror. We need to understand that the last agreement brought the Iranian ayatollahs billions of dollars, which they used not for the good of [Iranian] citizens but for the good of terror and sabotaging the entire Middle East.”
Liberman said Iran’s funding of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force in Syria, Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Houthi militias in Yemen, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, cost them $2.5 billion a year, “despite all the difficulties and internal issues” in the country.
“We need to understand that Iran has an extremist and ideological regime,” he said. •
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