Israel Prepares To Counter Iran, Hezbollah Build-Up In Syria

News Image By Ben Cohen/ July 18, 2017
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One of Israel's most highly-regarded national security experts has warned Iran and its proxies -- Hezbollah in Lebanon and President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus -- that the Jewish state will not hold back on using military force to counter Tehran's growing presence in Syria.

Retired IDF Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror -- who served as the national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and currently is a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University -- said that if the Iranians continued exploiting the recent Syrian ceasefire negotiated by Russia and the US to boost their presence in the country, "that might lead the IDF to intervene and to destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria."

"We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah to be the forces which will win from the long and very brutal war in Syria and to move the focus into Israel," Amidror declared on Monday, speaking on a conference call organized by The Israel Project.

Amidror observed that even if Iran was unable to achieve its much-vaunted "land corridor" from Tehran to the Mediterranean coasts of Syria and Lebanon, an increased number of bases in Syria for both Iranian and Hezbollah forces would still represent a profound threat.

"Israel should prevent it whatever will be the price," Amidror said, adding that he could not "see who will stop it."

"If that is in the interest of Israel, we should strive to be sure that our interests will be kept," he said.

Iran has already leased a military airfield from the Syrian government in the center of the country to station fighter aircraft, Ynet reported on Monday. 

Iran is also said to be negotiating with the Assad regime to establish a land base for Shia militiamen and a port in the city of Tartus.

"The establishment of an air and sea base and the attempt to permanently station 5,000 Shiite fighters on Syrian soil are not acceptable to us, and will have heavy consequences," Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

"We will not accept it," Lieberman explained during an interview with a Russian news outlet. "We insist that there be no trace of Iranian presence on Syrian soil, and we insist on this arrangement in every settlement."

Iran invests around $100 million a year in Hezbollah, which has enabled it to become the dominant political and military force in Lebanon with a sophisticated militia that more closely resembles a national army than a terrorist organization. 

It has an estimated 150,000 rockets, which is significantly more than all 29 NATO countries combined, with the exception of the US. To believe that Iran would not use this investment to its full potential is simply not realistic. 

While Iran has mobilized Hezbollah to prop up its client Bashar Assad in Syria, the original and main purpose has always been to use it as a weapon against the Jewish state.

Lieberman's comments followed a rare moment of discord between Netanyahu and the Trump administration over the ceasefire. 

On Sunday, Netanyahu, who was visiting Paris, telephoned US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to explain his opposition to the deal, based on its potential to expand Iran's hostile activities in Syria. 

The Israeli prime minister is understood to have raised a number of objections with Tillerson, including Israel's insistence that Iran and allied militias stay away from Syria's borders with Israel and Jordan, and its opposition to the stationing of Russian troops in those "safe zones" agreed under the deal that are close to Israel.

Amidror expressed understanding for the strategic thinking of both the US and Russia.

"For the Russians, to keep the continuation of the regime in Damascus which from their point of view is a strategic goal," he said.  "The Americans goal is to destroy ISIS, and that was their strategic goal."

But neither of these aims, he continued, offered much comfort to Israel.

"Israel should take care for its strategic goal and this is to prevent the Iranians and Hezbollah from building launching pads in Syria," Amidror stated.

Originally published at the Algemeiner - reposted with permission.

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