Senior Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz warned Saturday that a victory for the Syrian regime in in the country's civil war could mean Iran would straddle the border with Israel. The minister, who is part of Israel's security cabinet, said the threat dwarfs that posed by Hamas in Gaza.
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"I'm afraid that the price of a victory [by the Syrian regime] against ISIS would be Iranian military presence on our northern border. This would be a real danger to us, and the Turks and Cypriots are also concerned, because no one wants to see Iran wading in the Mediterranean," the national infrastructure, water and energy minister said at a cultural event in the city of Be'er Sheva.
"The world's shock over ISIS's barbarity and the wish to defeat it causes it to ignore the Iranian threat and Hezbollah's character," he added.
The cabinet minister's remarks were delivered against the backdrop of a massive offensive against the rebel-held city of Aleppo in northern Syria. The regime assault, backed by Russia and Iran, appears to be one of the most determined offensives in five years of civil war.
Aleppo would be the biggest strategic prize in years for Assad's government in a conflict that has killed at least 250,000 people and driven 11 million from their homes.
"It's possible that we're witnessing the beginning of the rebellion's suppression, but our problem is that this turning point is reached with the presence of Iranian advisers and troops," Steinitz said, refrencing the bloody civil war in Syria, which shares a border with Israel.
Steinitz warned that developments in Syria may prove to be a bigger strategic threat to Israel than Hamas' tunnels in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Asked about the reports that Egypt flooded the smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, Steinitz said if true, it was to "some degree thanks to Israel's request."
"It's a good solution for that sector. It's not a solution for a 60-70 km long sector," he said. Steinitz added that Israel "doesn't necessarily know about every tunnel and shaft," and that it is engaged in a massive effort to design technology to handle the underground threat. Steinitz refused to say whether Israel was behind several accidents in Hamas tunnels, which left several militants dead.
The Bashar Assad regime in Syria is already an "Iranian puppet," Steinitz warned, adding that "we ought to make sure this doesn't turn into a more serious situation in the future."
"What's happening in Syria is a dangerous process because it could end with the Golan Heights becoming our border with Iran," Steinitz said.
On Saturday, Iran has held a funeral for six soldiers, including a senior Revolutionary Guard general, who were killed while fighting alongside President Assad's forces in Syria.
State TV says Gen. Mohsen Ghajarian and five others were killed in northern Syria while battling the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels. Iran says it has sent military advisers to help Assad's forces but denies sending any combat troops into Syria. A number of Iranians have been killed in recent months, including several high-ranking commanders.
The Guard's top commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said at the funeral Saturday that Iran has no plans to send combat troops to Syria.