Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IAF Brigadier General Peleg Niego at Tel Nof Airbase in Rehovot, May 23, 2018.
(photo credit: PMO)
Israel plans to act against Iran anywhere in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman prepared to fly to Moscow for talks about removing the Islamic Republic and its proxy armies from the war-torn country.
“We will continue to act against [Tehran’s] intention to establish a military presence in Syria across from us, not just across from the Golan Heights but anywhere in Syria,” Netanyahu said.
He spoke at the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery in Tel Aviv during a memorial ceremony for those killed in the 1948 Altalena Affair.
Before leaving Israel, Liberman tweeted about his talks scheduled for Thursday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. “The main focus of the security forces has been to prevent Iran and its proxies from entrenching themselves in Syria,” Liberman said.
Israel and Russia have a de-confliction mechanism in place, which allows the air force to strike Iranian targets in Syria, without the risk of hitting Russian forces. Israel is now working toward a Russian agreement for the removal of all Iranian forces from the country.
Moscow called this week for Iran to leave the southern part of Syria, next to Israel’s border.
Rebels control stretches of southwest Syria, bordering Israel on the Golan Heights, while the Syrian Army and allied Iran-backed militias hold territory nearby.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a public statement, called for the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces from Syria’s border with Israel soon as possible, the TASS news agency reported.
“We have well-known agreements concerning the southwestern de-escalation zone,” he said on Tuesday at the Primakov Readings international summit in Moscow.
“Those agreements were concluded by Russia, the United States and Jordan. Israel was perfectly aware of them while they were still being drafted. They stipulate that the zone of de-escalation is expected to consolidate stability and that all non-Syrian forces must be pulled out of that area. I believe this must happen as soon as possible. This is precisely what we are busy with now in cooperation with our Jordanian and US counterparts,” Lavrov said, according to TASS.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by telephone with Lavrov about Syria.
Israel has noted that the 2015 nuclear deal, which removed international sanctions against Iran, gave the Islamic Republic billions of dollars that were invested in regional military aggression, including in Syria.
The US pulled out of the deal early in May
, in hopes of pushing Iran to negotiate a better agreement. The other five signatories to the accord – the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia – are working to salvage the deal.
Israel, which has long opposed the agreement, is working to sway those countries, particularly the Western European powers, to follow America’s lead.
To underscore that message, Netanyahu plans to head to Germany, France and the UK next week to speak with his counterparts.
“Next week I am going to Germany, France and Britain,” he said Wednesday in Tel Aviv. “I will meet with Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, President [Emmanuel] Macron and Prime Minister [Theresa] May... I will present them with the latest strategic developments in our region, which are connected to the efforts to halt Iranian aggression in Syria and elsewhere.”
Israel contends that the deal strengthens Iran’s nuclear program rather than weakens it.
“We will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.Reuters contributed to this report.
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