Ya'alon: U.S., Russia Recognize Israel's Freedom of Action in Syria

Visiting a U.S. destroyer in Haifa ahead of a joint Israeli-American drill, defense minister says he doesn't believe a stable ceasefire in Syria is possible.

Moshe Ya'alon and Dan Shapiro on board the USS Carney in the Haifa Port.
Rami Shllush

The United States and Russia, both of which are currently active in the Syrian civil war, recognize Israel's "freedom to act and to defend our interests," Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Monday. 

"Israel is following one principal – defending itself," Ya'alon added, referring to recent reports of Israeli strikes in Syria.

"We do not intervene in conflicts in the region, neither in Lebanon, nor in Syria, nor in other places," Ya'alon said, during a visit aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Carney, which is currently docked in Haifa Port.

The defense minister was accompanied on his visit to the ship by United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, 

The situation in Syria is chaotic, Ya'alon said, noting that American attempts to achieve a ceasefire had failed. "It's difficult to see the reality of a stable ceasefire, with all of the elements [in Syria] agreeing to it." he said.

"ISIS is not a part of this process, the Nusra Front is not a part of this process. I can't see a comprehensive ceasefire in the horizon," he added.

The U.S. Navy destroyer is in Haifa as part of Juniper Cobra, a biannual drill held by Israel and the U.S. which simulates the operation of various anti-missile defense systems, including the long-range Arrow anti-ballistic missile.

The exercise, Ya'alon said, is "yet another example of the very special and deep relationship between our great ally, the United States, and Israel."

Also speaking during Monday's onboard visit, Shapiro said that the U.S. was cooperating with Israel in finding solutions to the tunnels being dug by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The countries, he said, were working together to  develop technologies to locate and destroy the tunnels.

On the same subject, Ya'alon said that Hamas was building tunnels for both offensive and defensive purposes. "Hamas is also trying to arm itself with rockets, though not with the success it had previously," Ya'alon said.

Referring to the possibility of escalation in the south, Ya'alon said that Israel was "preparing for the possibility that at some point, hopefully still far in the future, the southern front will start up again and we will have to deal with it."

"We are not resting on our laurels, neither as regards our defensive measures nor our offensive measures."

Ya'alon said that negotiations with the U.S. on a new military aid package for Israel were still ongoing and predicted that agreement would be reached "in the next few weeks."

The military capabilities that will be made available to Israel had been agreed during a recent meeting in Washington with his American counterpart Ashton Carter, Ya'alon added. Their purpose would be "to preserve our qualitative edge, which is such an important part of maintaining our deterrence and, of course, maintaining stability in the region."

Shapiro added that "the negotiations on the issue over the past two or three months have been fruitful."

He did not refer to a report in Haaretz that Israel was considering postponing the agreement until the election of a new president in the U.S. if the aid allocated in the new agreement was not to its satisfaction.