Citing “very volatile” conditions on the northern border with Syria and throughout the region, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted on Monday that the most basic principle guiding Israel is that “whoever hurts Israel, or threatens to hurt it, will get hurt.”
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Speaking at the start of the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee meeting, Netanyahu said: “We see a new Middle East, and it is very volatile; this is especially true on our northern border with Syria.”
Faced with recent developments in Syria, he said Israel is working in a level-headed, determined fashion. “The thing that guides us is first and foremost safeguarding the security of our citizens,” he said. “We are prepared for any scenario, and the fundamental principle that guides us is that whoever hurts Israel, or threatens to hurt it, will get hurt.”
Speaking of the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles expected to arrive in Syria, Netanyahu said Syria plans to transfer them to Hezbollah, and he warned: “Israel will do all that it can to prevent the transfer of these weapons to Hezbollah.”
Netanyahu denied Monday’s reports in the media of Israeli forces allegedly operating in Syria. “Any talk of undercover Israeli forces operating in Syria is nonsense,” Netanyahu said.
According to the prime minister, “Syria is in the midst of a long process of breaking apart that is seeping into our area. In fact, Iran is propping up Assad’s regime and it is they who have instructed Hezbollah to enter active combat in Syria. Iran is providing Assad with money, resources and advisers. For 40 years the Syrian border had been peaceful, but this might be changing before our eyes.”
Netanyahu asked the Knesset members not to leak to the press his comments about the arrangements reached on the transfer of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia to Syria.
“Syria decided to provide Hezbollah with advanced lethal weapons,” he said. “The weapons in question are of high quality and in a larger quantity than Syria had handed over up to this point. The transfer of arms can be sourced to an Iranian decision, with Assad carrying it out. The transfer of these weapons is sufficient to tip the balance of power to the point that we may have to change our security policy.”
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly said that opening a front with Israel on the Golan Heights is not a decision to be taken lightly. He told this to two Jordanian politicians, according to a report published on Monday in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
“Opening a front with Israel on the Golan Heights is an extremely serious decision,” Assad said, adding that Syria “doesn’t think in terms of naive resistance solely to make statements, such as by launching primitive rockets from time to time and leaving an opening for an enemy response or initiative.”
Rather, Syria believes in “resistance in the true sense, carefully planned and effective,” Assad was reported saying.
The Jordanians, members of that country’s Communist party, met with Assad in Damascus last week, before the Syrian army captured the key town of Qusayr from rebel forces. The Al-Akhbar article related the men’s impressions of the situation in Syria, and most of the statements attributed to Assad do not appear as direct quotes.
Assad’s Jordanian interlocutors said they felt Assad believes he is on the brink of victory against the rebels and is already turning his attention to the issues of the country’s postwar recovery. Al-Akhbar reported Assad saying that Western countries and the World Bank want to invest tens of billions of dollars in Syria when the civil war ends. He said Western nations offered to help rebuild Syria on condition that infrastructure projects are awarded to Western firms.
The Syrian leader reportedly said that as another condition for Western aid in postwar reconstruction, Damascus will be asked to approve petroleum export contracts. Syria has large offshore oil and natural gas reserves. Assad noted that because Damascus does not forget its friends and true allies, Syria had issued a drilling license to a Russian company.
The Syrian president was pessimistic about the so-called Geneva II conference on ending the fighting in Syria, first planned for later this month and now thought to be postponed until July, at the earliest. Assad said that while he has approved government participation in the summit, he does not believe it will yield meaningful results because opposition
representatives are not authorized to make decisions on behalf of the militias in the field, and at any rate the various opposition groups cannot reach agreement among themselves.
According to Al-Akhbar, Assad’s regime continues to voice support for holding the conference so as not to be blamed for quashing possible dialogue.
The interim head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, George Sabra, told a press conference on Saturday that there is no hope for a negotiated solution in Syria, and that the only option is the military overthrow of the Assad regime.