Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks overlooking the border between Israel and Syria.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NATO-country ambassadors he met in Jerusalem on Tuesday that Israel is “absolutely committed” to preventing Iran from establishing a military base in Syria.
Coming just hours after Syria accused Israel of three early morning strikes against a military installation northeast of Damascus, his comments carried additional weight.
Iran, he said, is dangerous because it is “trying to establish an empire, a territorial empire from Tehran to Tartus in the Mediterranean, enveloping the Middle East also from the south through Yemen, eventually conquering the Middle East. This is what Iran is about.,”
He continued: “We are absolutely committed to preventing Iran from forming such a base, a military base in Syria, and we back our words with action.”
Over the last few weeks, however, Netanyahu's government has come under fire from domestic critics for being more words than action, loudly threatening the Iranians and Hezbollah, even as Iran was making significant inroads into Syria.
Tuesday morning's reported IDF actions, coming in the wake of a series of security cabinet discussions in recent days about the volatile situation in the north, shows that Israel is willing to back up its threats, and that it is more concerned with the strategic weapons Iran is interested in introducing on Israel's northern border and transferring to Hezbollah, than the physical presence of Iranian advisors, soldiers or Shiite militias inside Syria.
According to opposition media in Syria, the targets of Tuesday's attacks was a base where long-range missiles were stored.
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Israel has no interest in a direct confrontation with Iranian forces in Iran, but has shown that it is willing to take action against efforts by Iran to either transfer game-changing weapons to Hezbollah or building the infrastructure in Syria or Lebanon to build that type of weaponry there.
A smattering of Iranian soldiers and advisors in Syria, along with tens of thousands of members of Shiite militias, is a considerable security challenge for Jerusalem, but pales in comparison with the introduction of precision-guided missiles in the hands of Hezbollah. Iranian tanks, and even planes in Syria, is something that Israel could deal with easier than weaponry defined as tipping the strategic balance.
Iran, according to security officials, is also not interested in a direct confrontation with Israel, but rather in creating constant points of friction on Israel's borders that will keep Jerusalem perpetually preoccupied.
The thinking behind this strategy is that if Israel is pinned down with concern over the situation on its own borders – be it worried about Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and Shi'a militias in Syria, or Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza – then it will be less likely or able to take military action against Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Israel's alleged strike on Tuesday morning also sent a signal to Russia, which together with Iran and Turkey, are the key actors in determining what Syria will look like after the civil war. This message is that Israel has significant security interests inside the country that need to be addressed, and that if they are not addressed, Israel will do so.
Moscow has a keen interest in wanting to stabilize Syria after the war. The types of attacks that reportedly took place Tuesday morning show that this stability in Syria will be difficult to attain if Israel's concerns are not taken into account.
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