Security officials support an offensive and determined approach to stop Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria. This tough stance, shared by all branches of Israeli security, was recently presented to political officials. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot have made clear a number of times over the past few months that increased Iranian military presence in Syria will be perceived as a red line and that Israel will act to protect its security interests.
Last week, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Ankara to discuss the situation in Syria. The meeting raised major concerns in Israel. The impression is that Russia is now backing Tehran in its continued military actions in Syria, even if it means increased friction on the border with Israel.
The Shi’ite forces in Syria that answer to Iran now number somewhat fewer than 20,000, and in recent years there that number has not changed dramatically. According to IDF estimates, there are about 2,000 Iranian advisers and fighters in Syria, about 7,500 members of Hezbollah and about 9,000 militia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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“The final and desired situation is the removal of all the Iranian-Shi’ite forces from Syria, including Hezbollah and the militias. We won’t let them get near the borders,” Eisenkot told Haaretz in an interview to mark the Passover holiday. The chief of staff said that Israel had defined a strip along the Syrian border in which it would not permit entry to forces loyal to the regime in Tehran, but he gave no details as to what that line is geographically.
But Iran’s efforts to establish itself in Syria are not limited to land; they also involve increasing the regime’s aerial capabilities. The T-4 Syrian air force base that was attacked on Monday was used in the past was used by the command module for the operators of the Iranian drone that penetrated Israel. Not far from there is another air base that serves Iran and its allies, the Shayrat airbase.