After U.S. Announces Syria Pullout, Netanyahu Says Israel Will Increase Actions Against Iran With Full U.S. Support

Putin says he agrees with Trump that ISIS has been defeated in Syria but that he doesn't know what a U.S. withdrawal really means, as he has not seen signs of it yet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem, December 2018.
ABIR SULTAN,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will "continue to act aggresively against Iran's attempt to entrench itself in Syria."

Speaking alongside Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades at the fifth Israel-Greece-Cyprus summit in Be'er Sheva, Netanyahu added that Israel "continues its efforts to thwart the terror tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon border."

"At this moment, we are employing special means to...neutralize these tunnels," Netanyahu said, adding that "we do not intend to reduce our efforts on either of these fronts, we will escalate them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the U.S."

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he largely agrees with Trump that ISIS has been defeated in Syria, adding that there is a risk that ISIS militants could regroup. Putin also called the U.S. military presence in Syria illegitimate.

Putin noted that he doesn't know what a U.S. withdrawal from Syria really means, adding that Russia hasn't seen any signs of withdrawal yet. Putin said that the U.S. has said many times before that it is leaving Afghanistan, but it is still there.

U.S. soldiers gather for a brief during a combined joint patrol rehearsal in Manbij, Syria, November 2018.
Spc. Zoe Garbarino,AP

The White House said on Wednesday that the United States has started sending troops back from Syria but that the move does not signify the end of the campaign or a halt to the work of the global coalition in the war-torn country. 

All U.S. State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The decision came after a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. "Everything that has followed is implementing the agreement that was made in that call," the official said.

Israel was aware of Trump's intentions, and has been trying to postpone the decision over the last year. However, it was the timing of the move which caught the political echelon off-guard and came at a moment when Israel is facing the repercussions of the September downing a Russian spy plane in Syria.

Since the incident, Netanyahu has yet to be invited to Moscow, and Israel was hoping this would happen before the U.S. withdrawal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "The U.S. administration has told me that it was the president's intention to pull out their troops from Syria. They clarified that they have other ways to wield their influence in that arena," the premier stated. 

Netanyahu added that Israel will closely follow the time table of the American troops' withdrawl and what repercussions this move will have on Jerusalem. "In any case we will make sure to ensure the safety of Israel  and protect ourselves from this arena."

Israel's envoy at the UN, Danny Danon, voiced concern over the American move later Wednesday. Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Hezbollah's cross-border tunnels, the Israeli ambassador said that while Israel respected its ally's decision it still had its own concerns about the situation in Syria.