Netanyahu: Israel Will Not Allow Iran to Entrench Itself in Syria

In video released after alleged Israeli attack in Syria, Netanyahu says Iran is setting up shop in Syria 'for the express purpose of eradicating' Israel

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli border with Syria
Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published a video Saturday in which he reiterated Israel's policy on Iran. The video, which was filmed on Thursday and will be screened in full in the Saban Forum on Sunday, was published after Israel allegedly attacked an Iranian base in Syria overnight Friday.

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"Let me reiterate Israel’s policy: We will not allow a regime hell-bent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said in the video excerpt.

Netanyahu: Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria

"We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state," he said.

>> Alleged Israeli strike in Syria: Why Iran's silence speaks volumes | Analysis <<

Israeli warplanes struck a military base near the Syrian capital of Damascus overnight Friday, Syrian state television has confirmed.  According to pro-Assad news outlets, the target of the attack was an Iranian military base near the city of Al-Kiswa, located some 13 kilometers south of Damascus.

The site of a reported Iranian military compound in Al-Kiswa, Syria, January, 2017.
Airbus, McKenzie Intelligence Services via BBC

Syrian state media has confirmed that an attack took place, and claimed that two Israeli surface-to-surface missiles had also been intercepted by Syrian air defenses. The report did not divulge further details as to the attack's target or of casualties sustained. The Syrian government has yet to comment.

Iranians in Syria

The issue of Iranian forces in Syria has topped Israeli concerns regarding its war-torn neighbor.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that there are no Iranian military forces in Syria, in comments that seem to contradict claims made by Netnayahu.

"It is true that there are a number of Iranian experts and advisers, but there is no Iranian military force on Syrian land," he said.

>> Syria deal puts Iran too close to Israel’s borders | Analysis >>

Netanyahu has said Iran is working to build military bases in Syria, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its leader there, Qassem Soleimani, have been photographed in the war-torn country neighboring Israel to the north.

When asked about this discrepancy, Lieberman said that "all the regional forces know we are the strongest power in the area. Israel is a regional power.

"Iran has a strategy to creating proxies everywhere. Obviously, they are not physically in Lebanon, that's what's Hezbollah is for. In Yemen, they're not physically present, they created the Houthi rebels. They have the same plan in Syria: creating different kinds of militias."

>> Syria is currently host to thousands of foreign troops: Who are they and will they leave? >>

The comments seem to contradict the official line presented by Netanyahu, who even called the Iranians out on this issue in his speech to the UN this year, saying: "We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces. We will act to prevent Iran from producing deadly weapons in Syria... And we will act to prevent Iran from opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border."

The BBC reported a few weeks ago that Iran is building a permanent military base in Syria, citing "a Western intelligence source."

In September, Israel asked Russia and the U.S. to prevent an Iranian presence, or that of any Shi’ite militia operating under Iranian influence, in southern Syria near the Israeli border in any cease-fire agreement. Israel presented its demand during the talks that preceded the cease-fire agreement in July – but the Russians refused.

Only last week, Russia said it did not promise to ensure a withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces from Syria. The presence of Iran in Syria is legitimate, RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Tuesday. 

The comments prompted Lieberman to say, “We will not allow a Shi’ite and Iranian [presence] to be established in Syria and will not permit all of Syria to be turned into a front-line position against the State of Israel."