Israel Won’t Allow Iranian Permanent Military Presence in Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday that Israel will not allow a permanent military presence of Iran in Syria, The Jerusalem Post reports.

As the Syrian civil war appears to be coming to a close, or at least stagnating, Israel’s attention has increasingly turned to the threats posed by Syria’s other ally, Iran, which is believed to be establishing bases and military infrastructure near the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

“Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow that,” Netanyahu told Shoigu.

Israel has reportedly asked Russia and the United States to include in ceasefire agreements for the Syrian conflict that Iran-backed Shi’ite militias not be allowed within 60 kilometers of the border. However, according to reports, these requests have been denied.

Netanyahu’s comment came a day after Israel’s destruction of an SA-5 anti-aircraft battery in Syria. Both Russia and Iran are key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Tuesday’s meeting dealt primarily with the subject of Iran – both in reference to bases in Syria as well as the nuclear deal. Netanyahu told Shoygu that if the terms of the deal are not changed, Iran will be in possession of nuclear weapons in 8-10 years.

The Iranian nuclear deal, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to decertify the deal was also discussed, with Netanyahu repeating Israel’s position that if the deal is not changed, then Iran will acquire a nuclear arsenal within eight to ten years.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who met Shoigu soon after his arrival on Monday, also took part in the meeting. Liberman told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, that Israel will take action against Iran and its proxies if they continue to entrench themselves along the Syrian border.

“We will not get involved in internal matters in Syria, but, on the other hand, we will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to turn Syrian territory into a forward operating base against Israel,” Liberman told the Russian defense minister.

Liberman told the Russian defense minister that Israel is “operating responsibly and with determination” in Syria.

“We will not allow the transfer of advanced weaponry by Iran, through Syria to Lebanon,” he added.

The meeting was held several hours after the Israeli Air Force announced that it had carried out a strike on an SA-5 anti-missile battery some 50 kilometers east of Damascus which fired towards Israeli fighter jets on a reconnaissance flight over neighboring Lebanon.

It was the first instance of a Syrian battery firing at an Israeli jet in Lebanese airspace since the start of the civil war in 2011. Liberman is due to fly to the U.S. on Wednesday to meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis in the coming days and it is thought that he will discuss Iran and Syria with his U.S. counterpart.