Israel Rules Out New Political Landscape in Syria as Final Battle Inches Closer

Echoing Netanyahu, defense chief says Israel won't be bound by deals made in post-war Syria ■ Syrian tells Russia Assad regime will 'go all the way' in Idlib ■ Assad offensive on rebel enclave reportedly imminent

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a tour of the Lebanese border, Israel, August 30, 2018
Ariel Hermoni (Israel Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said agreements in the Middle East pertaining to the morning after the Syrian war will not apply to Israel, which prioritizes its own security interests.

"We're seeing different gatherings in ... Ankara, in Tehran, in Geneva, for after the battle for Idlib, regarding the reshaping of Syria," Lieberman said, speaking in northern Israel after a security tour of the Lebanese border.

>> Iran, Russia prepare to battle each other over control of post-war Syria

"With all due respect and esteem to all agreements and understandings, we are not bound by this. What we are solely bound to is the security interest of the state of Israel," Lieberman said. He described such agreements as "irrelevant" and said Israel will be stringent regarding all previous accords.

The defense minister's statements echoed remarks made a day earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said an agreement between Syria and Iran announced earlier this week will not deter Israel.

"Whoever threatens us with our demise puts himself in similar danger," Netanyahu declared.

'All the way' in Idlib

Idlib and areas surrounding it are the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close Russian ally, and a source has told Reuters he is preparing a phased offensive to regain it.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, saying "we will go all the way" in Idlib. Al-Moualem declared the Nusra Front group, formerly the local branch of Al-Qaida, as the main target.

"This hotbed of terrorists [in Idlib] does really not bode anything good if such inaction continues," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. "The situation in Syria has a significant potential to become more complicated and the situation around Idlib leaves a lot to be desired," he said. 

The Russian Navy's frigate Admiral Essen sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, August 25, 2018.
\ YORUK ISIK/ REUTERS
A portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad is displayed on the screen as participants attend a video call between Moscow and Syria, Moscow, Russia, August 30, 2018.
Pavel Golovkin,AP

The United Nations has called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to delay the battle, which could affect millions of civilians. 

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters that there was a high concentration of foreign fighters in Idlib, including an estimated 10,000 terrorists, but it would be better to set up humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians than rush into a battle which could turn prove to be a "perfect storm."

Nevertheless, Russia is planning a major naval exercise in the Mediterranean on Saturday, a move the Kremlin said was justified by a failure to deal with militants in Idlib.

The Russian Defense Ministry said more than 25 warships and support vessels and around 30 planes, including fighter jets and strategic bombers, would take part in the Mediterranean drills which it said would last from September 1 to September 8.

They would involve anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-mining exercises. Ships from Russia's Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets would take part as would vessels from its Caspian Flotilla. The ''Marshal Ustinov'' missile cruiser would lead the drills. 

On Tuesday, NATO confirmed to Haaretz a large scale Russian navy buildup in the Mediterranean Sea off Syria. Russian media on Tuesday called the deployment Moscow's largest naval buildup since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.

Russia has been expanding its naval forces in the Mediterranean this month, part of what a newspaper has called Moscow's largest naval build-up since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.