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November 15, 2017 9:52 am

Israeli Defense Minister, in Apparent Message to Russia: We Will Not Permit Iranian Entrenchment in Syria

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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits Israel’s northern border. Photo: Ariel Hermoni / Israeli Defense Ministry.

A day after Russia’s top diplomat called Iran’s presence in war-torn Syria “legitimate,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman signaled on Wednesday a disagreement with the Kremlin’s position.

At the end of a two-day tour of Israel’s northern border, Lieberman — who was accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and other top brass — declared, “When you meet IDF soldiers, you are sure you have someone to rely on. We maintain absolute freedom of action. We will not permit Iranian Shia entrenchment in Syria, and we will not allow all of Syria to become a forward operating base against the State of Israel. Whoever doesn’t understand this — should understand.”

Watch a video of Lieberman’s border tour below:

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IDF would continue to operate in Syria “in accordance with our security needs.” His comment came in the wake of the announcement by the US, Russia and Jordan over the weekend of a ceasefire deal in southern Syria.

Since the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011, Israel has largely sought to remain neutral in the bloody conflict. However, the IDF has responded with pinpoint strikes to occasional cross-border fire — both errant and intentional — in the Golan Heights and has reportedly bombed a number of Hezbollah-bound arms convoys and other targets in Syria tied to the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based Shia terror group in recent years.

Israel has also provided medical treatment to thousands of people wounded in the fighting in Syria.

Recently, Israel has been publicly expressing its concerns about Iran’s ongoing bid to bolster its strength in Syria.

In August, Netanyahu flew to Sochi for a sit-down with Russian President Vladmiri Putin. At the meeting, Netanyahu stated, “Iran is increasing its efforts to establish its military foothold in Syria. That is dangerous for Israel, the Middle East and, I believe, the whole world.”

After Moscow’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime began two years ago, Israel and Russia set up a coordination mechanism to avoid unintended confrontations between their forces.

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