(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday said that Israel will not sit silently while Iran expands its influence in neighboring countries.
“Iran, through the Revolutionary Guards, is trying to create a new reality around us with Iranian air and naval bases in Syria, with Shi’ite militias with thousands of mercenaries and precision weapons being produced in Lebanon,” he told a directors- general meeting of the Israel Institute of Energy and Environment.
“The State of Israel does not intend to remain a bystander and accept these attempts,” Liberman said.
Jerusalem has repeatedly said that it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria, and Liberman has warned in the past that while there is no interest by Israel to enter Syria’s six-and-a-half-year civil war, there are redlines that Jerusalem has set, including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.
The Iranian and Syrian issues featured prominently in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.
Netanyahu, who was joined by Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat, the recently appointed leader of the National Security Council, said at the meeting that Iran is “well on its way” to controlling not only Syria, but other countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
The growing role of the Islamic Republic poses a threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but the entire world, Netanyahu told Putin, adding that this “does not fly with Israel.”
“We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel. It is arming terrorist organizations and it sponsors and initiates terror.
It is developing intercontinental missiles with the goal of arming them with nuclear warheads. It is for all these reasons that Israel continues to oppose Iran’s entrenchment in Syria. We will defend ourselves in any way against this threat and any threat,” Netanyahu said.
With Russia carrying out military operations in Syria and Israel reportedly responsible for several air strikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria, Russian and Israeli officials have met nine times in the past two years to coordinate their actions in the region in order to avoid accidental clashes and implement a system over Syria.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Putin did not publicly address Iran but hailed the system put in place between Russia and Israel over Syria.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid took to his Facebook page on Thursday, saying that the meeting between the two leaders was “useless.”
Lapid said that while he thought the world should be presented with a unified front against the Iranian issue, “today the Russians announced that they have no intention of changing their policy and will continue to cooperate with the Iranians in Syria, allowing them to establish themselves 20 kilometers from the Israeli border, with the possibility of establishing a military port and an air base opposite our front door.”
Lapid said that while the Iranian expansion is a huge failure of Israeli foreign policy, it is far from surprising.
“For 20 years, Netanyahu has been talking about Iran, and in the end he has reached the worst possible outcome: Iranians are on the border with Israel,” he said. “This failure is registered in his name because he did not only fail to formulate a clear policy, but he failed to produce the political power that would enable us to change the reality on the ground.”