Amid reports of an alleged Israeli aircraft attack on an Iranian base outside of Damascus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that an Iranian presence in Syria will not become a reality.
“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy. We will not allow a regime hell bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state,” he said.
The statement is part of a larger message that was taped in Jerusalem on Thursday, and which will be aired for the first time at the annual Saban Forum in Washington DC on Sunday.
According to foreign media reports, Israeli launched five air-to-surface missiles from Lebanese airspace toward an Iranian base near the town of El Kiswah, 15 km. southwest of the Syrian capital.
Syria’s SANA state news agency reported that regime air defenses “confronted an Israeli attack with ground-to-ground missiles” and that the air defenses intercepted and destroyed three Israeli missiles.
The Arabic-language al-Masdar news agency reported that two of the Israeli missiles fired toward the 1st Division ammunition depot hit the targets. Satellite imagery of the base showed significant damage to the site.
Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria, though in the past it has publicly admitted to having struck over 100 Hezbollah convoys and other targets there, with Netanyahu saying that strikes will continue when “we have information and operational feasibility.”
In September, BBC revealed satellite imagery purporting to show that Iran had established a military base with several buildings that likely house soldiers and military vehicles.
According to the report, which was based on a western intelligence source, the Iranian base is some 50 km. north of Israel’s Golan Heights.
While the BBC stated that it could not independently verify the purpose of the base and the presence of Iranian troops, Israel has warned of the growing entrenchment of Iran in Syria.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon from Tehran via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.
Recently, Israeli officials have said the IDF would not allow Iran to establish a military foothold within 40 km. of the border.
According to Channel 10 a senior White House official reassured Israel that the US would not withdraw from Syria without a permanent agreement.
The official added: “The cease-fire agreement is only the first stage. Together with the Russians, we will try to expand the buffer zone and distance the Iranians 20 km. from the northern Golan Heights, and perhaps even to Damascus.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has told Israel that Moscow has agreed to expand a buffer zone along the Israeli-Syrian border where Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to enter. The statement attributed to an Israeli diplomatic official by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said Russia had refused the Israeli request for a 40-km. buffer zone, but expressed willingness to extend a 10-15 km. off-limits zone.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has warned repeatedly of Iranian entrenchment in the war-torn country, saying in mid-November that Israel “will simply not allow for Shi’ite consolidation and Iranian entrenchment in Syria, nor will we allow Syria to become a forward operating base against the State of Israel.”
Liberman also has warned repeatedly that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s seven-year civil war, “I advise our neighbors not to test us.”
Last month, Liberman asked for an increase of NIS 4.8 billion to the IDF’s budget, citing “significant” security challenges that have dramatically changed Israel’s security situation, including the massive Russian presence in Syria; precision weapons in the hands of groups such as Hezbollah; and the dramatic acceleration of Iran’s military industry.