Israel to Maintain Operational Freedom Even if Safe Zone Established in Southern Syria, Defense Minister Says

Report in Asharq Al-Awsat claimed U.S., Russia and Jordan in talks on setting up safe zone along Jordan-Syrian border

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman
Olivier Fitoussi

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that even if talks between Russia, the U.S. and Jordan lead to the establishment of a safe zone in southern Syria, Israel will not give up its operational freedom.

>> Get all updates on Israel, Syria and the Middle East: Download our free App, and Subscribe >>

Israel will continue to act to thwart threats from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights or to stop the transfer of advance arms to Hezbollah, the defense minister said.

In a report, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat cited Western sources as saying that Russia, the U.S. and Jordan are working to reach an agreement to set up a safe zone along part of the Syrian-Jordanian border in what the paper described as a "sign to 'Hezbollah' and other Iranian-backed militias." The deal will also see a cease fire in the area.

Lieberman noted that Israel will hold the Syrian regime accountable for arms shipments to Hezbollah or for giving the Iranians the possibility of establishing a presence near the Israeli border. He said Israel would thwart what he described as "ticking bombs" in Syria. "When there's a need to act, we will certainly act," Lieberman said.

He also commented on Israel's ties to the Palestinians and the crisis in Gaza, saying that the Palestinian Authority's strategy "is two sided – they also want to harm Hamas and also maybe to drag Israel into a conflict with Hamas. Otherwise, I see no explanation for why they [would stop paying for Gaza's electricity] without coordinating with us."  

Two months ago it was reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the idea of setting up "safe zones" in Syria. At the beginning of April, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu wants any future deal to end the war in Syria to include "buffer zones" on the border between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights, as well as the border between Syria and Jordan, to prevent Iran and Hezbollah for setting up bases there.

In May, after Russia, Iran and Turkey were in talks on setting up four different safe zones in Syria, Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A senior Israeli official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter told Haaretz at the time that Netanyahu did not voice opposition to the move to set up the "safe zones," but did stress that they cannot serve to allow Iran or Hezbollah to set up near the border with Israel.