Israel Will Continue to Operate Freely in Syria, Defense Minister Says

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Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, left, speaks to the media while meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Thursday April 26, 2018, at the Pentagon.
Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, left, speaks to the media while meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, April 26, 2018

Israel will maintain freedom of operation in Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday.

“We have no intention to attack Russia or to interfere in domestic Syrian issues,” Lieberman said at the annual Jerusalem Post conference. “But if somebody thinks that it is possible to launch missiles or to attack Israel or even our aircraft, no doubt we will respond and we will respond very forcefully.”

The remarks came less than a month after a strike on an air force compound in Syria that is under exclusive Iranian control – a strike attributed by Syria, Iran, and Russia on Israel. Several members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in the strike. This past Tuesday, Lieberman said Israel might strike the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems in Syria if they are used against Israel.

At Sunday's conference, Lieberman said that Israel has three problems: “Iran, Iran, Iran.”

“Iran is trying to destabilize the whole region, not only in Israel. Look at what is happening in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria,” the defense minister said.  “Iran supports and creates proxies around Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not survive one week without Iranian support.”

As for the Iran nuclear deal and the prospect that the United States will soon announce that it does not believe Iran is abiding by it, Lieberman said: “It’s not our business. It is an American decision and they didn’t ask any advice from our side. We understand that they have their ideas and their approach. We can only speak to our position which is very clear. We think that it is a very, very bad deal which was a huge mistake and from our point of view there is no reason to have this deal.”

Lieberman met last weekend with several high-ranking U.S. defense officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Trump adviser Jared Kushner. On the eve of his trip to the U.S., Lieberman told Saudi website Elaph that if the Islamic Republic attacks Tel Aviv, Israel “will strike Tehran and destroy every Iranian military site that threatens Israel in Syria, whatever the price.”

Earlier Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said following a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday that the United States will cancel the Iran nuclear deal if it is not fixed.  Pompeo further said that the U.S. stands with Israel against Iran. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran's dangerous escalation of threats toward Israel and the region,” Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. supports Israel's right to defend itself.

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