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April 5, 2018 2:52 pm

Israeli Official: Countering Iran Must Be Done in Syria First

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A US fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa, Syria, Nov. 6, 2016. Reuters / Rodi Said.

Israel is determined to “prevent Iran from basing itself militarily in Syria,” the director of the Jewish state’s Intelligence Ministry said in an interview this week.

Speaking with The Cipher Brief, Chagai Tzuriel said, “If they [the Iranians] start building air, sea and ground bases for them and Shi’ite militias, a forward base like they built in Lebanon with Hezbollah, we have made clear we will not accept the situation. We have presented it as a red line.”

Regarding Jerusalem’s contacts with Moscow about the situation in Israel’s northeastern neighbor, Curiel noted, “Russia is more dominant in Syria. It saw an opportunity and a gulf left by US inaction earlier in the war. It’s all frenemies — it’s all about cooperating where you can and disagreeing other places. America is our strategic ally. Russia is a fact of life.”

Syria, Curiel explained, is “a microcosm of global and regional relations — Russia and the US, Turkey and Iran, Arabs and non-Arabs, Shi’ites and Sunnis, ISIS, al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

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On Wednesday, it was reported that US President Donald Trump wants to withdraw American troops from Syria in the foreseeable future.

Israel, according to Curiel, would like to see at least some US forces remain there.

“I hope they continue to be involved and continue to represent our concerns,” Curiel said. “Countering Iran, which is the biggest issue in the region, must be done in Syria first. You can do a lot with a little. By being there, you are sitting around the table, shaping the future of Syria.”

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