Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled Monday that Israel would take military action in Syria when it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.
Israel has long accused Iran, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria’s civil war to send its Revolutionary Guard and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah into southern Syria, close to the border with the Jewish state.
It has sought to avoid being dragged into the fighting but has carried out dozens of air strikes to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, which fights alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Israel was reportedly seeking a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some 50 kilometers (30 miles), but an agreement reached last week between the United States, Russia and Jordan fell short of that demand, Israeli media said.
“I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria — including in southern Syria — according to our understanding and according to our security needs,” Netanyahu told senior members of his Likud party, according to a party statement.
“This is what is happening and this is what will continue to happen.”
The November 8 agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia seeks to build on a cease-fire already in place in southwestern Syria.
On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.
“We will not allow the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria” as a base for operations against Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement after the incident.
Speaking later Monday in parliament, Netanyahu said some of Israel’s Arab neighbors shared its concerns.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, in the face of radical Islam, no matter where it comes from, be it Iran, the Daesh group or elsewhere,” he said, without naming the countries.
“I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace,” he added.
Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia has long been at loggerheads with Shiite, non-Arab Iran but friction has been Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the Yemen’s Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles.
The kingdom says one was fired toward Riyadh from Yemen on November 4 but brought down by its air defenses.
Iran denied any involvement.
“Iran knows very well, and everyone else should be aware, that we shall not agree to nor accept its military deployment in Syria,” Netanyahu told parliament.
In September, Israel’s military shot down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by arch-foe Hezbollah on a similar mission.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

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