Iranian Presence in Syria Is Legitimate, Russia Says Amid Israeli Concerns

Sergio Conner
November 14, 2017

Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian war, but officials have acknowledged carrying out dozens of airstrikes on suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he has told the United States and Russian Federation that Israel will continue to take action across the Syrian frontier according to its security needs, even as the two powers try to build up a ceasefire.

The PMO did not say when Netanyahu spoke with Putin.

The premier revealed that he conveyed to both the United States and Russia-which brokered the truce in conjunction with Jordan-that the Israeli army would continue to carry out strikes within Syrian and Lebanese air space to prevent the establishment of a permanent Iranian presence in Syria as well as the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hizbullah.

Although reports have said the deal applies to Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Assad's regime, which would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli official on Monday saying under the deal, militias associated with Iran would be allowed to maintain positions as close as five to seven kilometers (3.1-4.3 miles) to the border in some areas.

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He said Israel holds Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, responsible for attacks launched from the territory. Netanyahu said Sunday Israel "will respond with a heavy hand to anyone who tries to attack us from any front".

Speaking to a special session of the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu said he told Washington and Moscow that Israel will act according to its "security needs".

"I have also informed our friends, firstly in Washington and also our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria, including in southern Syria, according to our understanding and according to our security needs". An Israeli official, briefed on the situation, said the move is aimed at keeping rival factions away from each other, but would also keep Iranian-linked forces away from the Israeli side of the disputed Golan Heights.

The presence of Iran in Syria is legitimate, Lavrov was quoted as saying by another agency, Interfax. But, according to Reuters, Israel signaled on Sunday that it would continue to attack inside Syrian territory to block Iranian satellite forces at its door, no matter what the super powers are ready to sacrifice to reach a ceasefire in southern Syria.

In addition to the Syria agreement, the officials are likely to discuss Iran's alleged construction of a military base less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Israel's Golan border.

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