Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Friday that the United States should play a more active role in the Middle East.
Addressing the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington, Ya'alon expressed Israel's concern of Russian military build-up in Syria.
"Unfortunately in the current situation Russia is playing the most significant role, then the United States. We don't like the fact that King Abdullah of Jordan is going to Moscow. Egyptians are going to Moscow. The Saudis are going to Moscow. This should have been very different. And we believe that the United States can't sit on the fence. If you sit on the fence the vacuum is filled and Syria is an example whether by Iran or the Shia axes supported now by Russia or by Daesh, by ISIS. It shouldn't have been," Ya'alon told the annual gathering examining the US-Israel relationship.
Increased Russian involvement in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad prompted a reassessment in Israel about how to handle fall-out from the conflict without risking a clash with Moscow.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Israel, according to foreign reports, has occasionally fired across the Golan Heights in response to spillover shelling or bombed advanced arms it suspected were to be transferred to Assad's Lebanese guerrilla allies, Hezbollah.
Moscow's diplomatic and logistical support for Assad has shifted into major military backing.
The US military pledges to do more in Syria to help enable local forces combat Islamic State and could expand beyond a previously announced deployment of up to 50 special operations forces, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on December 1.
In Washington for a series of meetings
, Ya’alon on Wednesday noted the new set of challenges facing Israel now that the nuclear deal brokered last July is proceeding toward implementation.
“We are very worried about Iran’s presence in Syria,” Ya’alon said. “Iran’s Quds Force is currently the only source actively working in Syria to attack us, trying to smuggle weapons and run messengers.”
“The Iranian regime is perceived as one of the key sources of stability for the Middle East, but we would argue that it is the heart of the problem,” he continued. “This regime generates terrorism and undermines many of the regimes in the Middle East, and this is not good news for the region, not only for Israel. The Iranian terror network is active across the world, including in the US.”
Meeting with the House Foreign Relations Committee, Ya’alon was asked to outline the Obama administration’s proposed 10-year defense package – and to assess whether the Israeli government was satisfied with what had thus far been offered. The focus of the closed-door discussion, according to aides, was Iran.
“It is a challenging time for Israel, and today’s discussion was about the shared threats facing our close ally,” said House of Representatives member and committee chairman Ed Royce of California.
“The regime in Tehran calls for the destruction of Israel and funds terrorists stockpiling weapons on Israel’s doorstep.
It is critical that our ally has the tools and resources needed to confront their growing security threats.”
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.