IDF tanks are seen along the Golan Heights border with Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israeli army has reinforced troops on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria in light of a situational assessment by the Northern Command, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced on Sunday.
While the IDF does not expect the offensive to lead to direct clashes between Israel and the Syrian army, armored and artillery forces were deployed on Sunday morning as part of the IDF’s preparedness in the face of developments on the Syrian Golan Heights.
“The IDF attaches great importance to maintaining the 1974 disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria,” read the army statement, adding that while the IDF will continue to maintain the principle of non-involvement in the Syrian civil war, it will continue its “policy of reacting firmly to cases in which Israeli sovereignty is harmed and Israeli civilians are threatened.”
Errant projectiles have occasionally landed in northern Israel throughout Syria’s seven- year civil war, leading the IDF to retaliate against Syrian army positions.
Rebels surrender as the Syrian army advances, June 30, 2018 (Reuters)
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel will give as much humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees near its border in the southern Golan Heights as it can, but will not allow them entry.
“We will keep protecting our borders,” he stressed, adding that Israel will demand strict compliance with the 1974 separation agreements signed with Syria. As part of those agreements, signed in Geneva in May 1974 following the Yom Kippur War, Israel agreed to leave territories on the Golan Heights beyond the 1967 cease-fire lines.
Over the weekend, a string of Syrian rebel-held towns and villages in the southwestern part of the war-torn country accepted government “reconciliation” after days of intense bombardment by the Syrian army backed by Iranian Shi’ite militias and Hezbollah, and following Russian air strikes that pummeled the southwestern provinces of Dara’a and Quneitra in an offensive aimed at recapturing the strategic areas bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights from rebels.
Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Corps and Quds forces have continued to entrench themselves in Syria despite strikes against Iranian targets attributed to Israel.
Israeli intelligence estimates there are thousands of Iranian advisers and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers in Syria, some 9,000 Shi’ite militia fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and another 7,000 Hezbollah fighters.
Netanyahu said that he was in constant contact with the White House and the Kremlin regarding the situation in Syria, and that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot are also in close contact with their counterparts in the US and Russia.
Liberman held talks on Sunday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the situation in Syria, with an emphasis on events in the south of the country and Iranian attempts to establish themselves in the war-torn country.
According to a statement released by Liberman’s office, the defense minister stressed once again that Israel’s goal is to remove Iranian and Hezbollah forces from all of Syria and that Israel will act immediately against any attempt to entrench themselves there.
On Thursday, Eisenkot landed in the United States for a working visit in Washington as a guest of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. During his visit to the American capital, Eisenkot will meet with senior US military and defense officials to discuss “military cooperation in the face of significant defense challenges in the different regions of the Middle East.”
The Thursday talks focused on Israel’s concern about the regime offensive in southwest Syria which could put Iranian and Shi’ite militia troops close to Israel’s northern borders, a redline for Jerusalem. It is believed that the two senior military officials coordinated ways to prevent the Iranians and its proxies from entrenching their troops in areas taken over from the rebels along the strategic border.
Israel, Netanyahu also said, is working to prevent Iran and its proxies from “establishing themselves in any part of Syria.” Iran is “feeling very well the renewal of economic sanctions” as a result of the US decision in May to withdraw from the nuclear deal, and the Iranian economy is currently at a “low point.”
Netanyahu said the US withdrawal from the deal created a “strategic reversal” in Israel’s situation. He said Israel’s goal remains to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to “break the cash machine” that the Iranian nuclear agreement provided the country and which finances its aggression in Syria and throughout the region.
In early June, Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heyman warned at a closed-door conference that Tehran is trying to increase its efforts and capabilities to launch rockets and establish terror cells that can penetrate into Israel and harm communities on Israel’s Golan Heights.
Displaying a map showing where Iranian forces are based in Syria, Heyman told the crowd at the conference: “You probably think, well this is because they are trying to help the Assad regime to fight terror... but there is no threat to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, so why do they stay? If they came in order to only assist the regime so then thank you and goodbye.”