Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in a BBC interview that Iran is seeking to use its close ties with Syria to dock its submarines in Syrian ports. Netanyahu made the same claim in his remarks at the London policy institute Chatham House on Friday.
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It was the first public mention by a senior Israeli figure of this possibility, which has concerned the country’s military establishment for some time.
Israel has been warning about Iran entrenching itself in Syria for the past year. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have warned several times that Israel could be forced into military action under such circumstances, particularly with regard to the deployment of pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in southern Syria near the border with Israel in the Golan Heights.
Among other things, there has been talk of establishing an Iranian air force base in Syria and of Iranian plans to build weapons factories for Hezbollah in Syria and in Lebanon. In March, Netanyahu, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Iran sought was seeking to lease naval facilities along Syria’s Mediterranean coast, as Russia had done at the port of Tartus.
Speaking on “The Andrew Marr Show” on BBC One, Netanyahu said, “Iran openly calls for our destruction. Iran openly says it’s out to destroy what they call the ‘small Satan’ en route to the ‘Great Satan’ which is the United States. ... It is seeking to colonize Syria for that purpose – that is, to ‘Lebanonize’ Syria; what they did in Lebanon that Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri resigned over is basically took over the country. ... The same thing is being done in Syria.
“As ISIS [the Islamic State] collapses, as ISIS moves out, Iran moves in, but they want to bring their air force there, right next to Israel; they want to bring Shi’ite and Iranian divisions right next to Israel, they want to bring submarines and military vessels into the Mediterranean, right next to Israel. So we will not let that happen; we will resist it.”
When asked if Israel would go to war to stop this from happening, Netanyahu responded, “You know, the more we’re prepared to stop it, the less likely we’ll have to resort to much greater things. There is a principle I very much adhere to, which is to nip bad things in the bud.”
The Iranian navy operates several types of submarines, including midget or mini submarines it would deploy if attacked by navies in the Persian Gulf. By docking submarines in Syrian ports, the Iranians could gather intelligence or conduct sabotage operations against Israel.