Israel will react forcefully if Russian air defense systems are used against its jets by troops belonging to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York City on Sunday.
“No doubt we will take the action,” Liberman stressed when asked by Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post, if that meant striking the Russian-made S-300 advanced missile-defense system.
“We will keep our freedom of operation in all of Syria. We have no intention to attack Russia or to interfere in domestic Syrian issues,” Liberman said. “But if somebody thinks that it is possible to launch missiles or to attack Israel or even our aircraft, no doubt we will respond – and we will respond very forcefully.”
Last week, senior Russian officials stated that Moscow was once again considering supplying the system at no cost to the Assad regime following US-led strikes against several military sites that were in response to deadly chemical weapons attacks against the town of Douma on April 7.
Over the course of Syria’s eight-year-long civil war, Israel has publicly admitted to having struck over 100 Hezbollah convoys and other Iranian targets in Syria, while keeping mum on hundreds of other strikes that have been attributed to it.
Liberman, along with other senior Israeli officials, has been warning of Iranian entrenchment on the Golan Heights, an area of key strategic importance for the Jewish state, stressing that it is a redline for Jerusalem.
Israel has only three problems, the defense minister said: “Iran, Iran, Iran.”
“Iran is trying to destabilize the whole region, not only in Israel. Look at what is happening in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria. Iran supports and creates proxies around Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not survive one week without Iranian support,” he said, adding that over 85% of Hezbollah’s budget comes from Iran.
According to Liberman, the cancellation of the Iranian deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) would have a massive effect on Iran’s economy – a “huge consideration” for the regime since it will suffer a massive blow that would greatly harm its ability to support terror and anti-Israel activities.
Liberman, who recently met with National Security Adviser John Bolton at the White House as well as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, said that the United States has not asked for any advice from Jerusalem whether or not to cancel the deal.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman responds to a question about the assassination of a Palestinian in Malaysia, suspected to be a Mossad operation, at the 7th Annual Jpost Conference in NY (JBS TV)
“It’s not our business. It is an American decision and they didn’t ask [for] any advice from our side. We understand that they have their ideas and their approach. We can only speak to our position, which is very clear. We think that it is a very, very bad deal which was a huge mistake, and from our point of view there is no reason to have this deal,” he said.
“If someone will cancel the deal, of course we will support this approach,” Liberman added.
Turning the conversation toward the Gaza Strip border where thousands of Palestinians have been violently demonstrating over the past five weeks, Liberman stated that Hamas is fully responsible for the violence and Palestinian fatalities.
“All the demonstrations are accompanied by two slogans: to destroy the State of Israel and the right of return to all of Israel. We have not seen anyone talking about coexistence or living in peace with Israel, only to destroy it,” he said, adding that Hamas has invested $260 million in tunnels and missiles instead of on infrastructure for the Gaza Strip.
“What we have during these demonstrations are Hamas operatives and their families, who use their children and women as human shields. All responsibility falls on them,” he stressed, adding that Israel is “doing the minimum necessary to protect our security and our sovereignty.”
“I cannot understand what kind of demands they have today on the State of Israel,” he said, adding that Hamas is not ready to negotiate with Israel since “it has never even acknowledged Israel’s right to exist,” he said. “All of their existence and ideology is to destroy us. What are we supposed to discuss with them? How they destroy us?”
Touching on the alleged Mossad assassination of Dr. Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia, Liberman played dumb, chuckling as he said: “Malaysia – What is Malaysia?”
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