Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu in a meeting on Tuesday that Israel will not allow the establishment of Iranian military bases in Syria. The meeting was also attended by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
In August, Netanyahu warned Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Iran was seeking to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, and flagged a possible Israeli military response to such moves, saying that Israel sees permanent Iranian military facilities in Syria as a “red line.”
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Tuesday’s meeting dealt primarily with the subject of Iran – both in reference to bases in Syria as well as the nuclear deal. Netanyahu told Shoygu that if the terms of the deal are not changed, Iran will be in possession of nuclear weapons in 8-10 years.
On Monday, the Russian minister, on his first official visit to Israel, met with Liberman against a backdrop of tensions between Israel and Syria.
“We are going to talk about military-to-military technical engagement but most and foremost we are going to talk about counter-terrorism,” Liberman said. “Syria is another case, the ongoing military engagement there is coming to its end. There are some urgent issues to address. We are going to have some issues for the outlook that are going to need our attention later on but all this remains for discussion.
The minister’s remarks came several hours after the Israeli Air Force announced that it had carried out a strike on a SA-5 battery some 50 kilometers east of Damascus which fired a missile towards Israeli fighter jets on a reconnaissance flight over neighboring Lebanon.
It was the first instance of a Syrian battery firing at an Israeli jet in Lebanese air space since the start of the civil war in 2011.
The visit is Shoygu’s first official trip to the country, although he and Liberman have met in the past. Senior Israeli figures from the political world and defense establishment have been relatively frequent visitors to Russia in recent years.
Liberman and Shoygu discussed coordination between the two countries vis-à-vis Syria, the possible establishment of an Iranian base in Syria, and Iranian attempts to transfer weapons to Hezbollah via Damascus.
Liberman is due to fly to the US on Wednesday to meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis in the coming days and it is thought that he will discuss Iran and Syria with his US and Russian counterparts.
Regarding the Israeli retaliatory strike on a Syrian government anti-aircraft missile launcher after it fired on its aircraft patrolling in Lebanese air space on a photographic reconnaissance mission, the Guardian newspaper of the UK reported that an Israeli military spokesman said that the aircraft were flying inside Lebanon but close to the Syrian border when the missile was fired at them.
According to the spokesman, the missile – an SA5 surface-to-air rocket – failed to hit its target, and the anti-aircraft battery located 30 miles from Damascus was then hit by separate Israeli jets, “incapacitating” the launcher with four strikes.
There was no information on any casualties.
The Guardian reported that the missile launch is the second time this year Israeli jets have been engaged by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, with the rocket fired in the previous incident flying into Israel. According to Israel, the same battery that fired on Monday was also involved in that incident.
“The Syrian regime is responsible for any firing from its territory. We see this incident as a clear provocation and we will not allow it. If anti-aircraft fire is being carried out for any military activity, we will respond as we did now,” said the Israeli military spokesman.
Following the attack on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Today they attempted to hit our planes… If anyone attempts to harm us, we will harm them back.”
According to “The Drive” web site, writer Tyler Rogoway reports that this retaliatory strike on Israel’s part isn’t the first time a Syrian SA-5 took aim at an IAF aircraft. Last March, he writes, “an SA-5 was shot towards Israeli fighters exfiltrating from Syrian airspace following an air strike on a weapons transfer site. The missile was engaged by an Israeli Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor.” He adds: “What followed was an increasingly bellicose string of rhetoric between the Assad regime and the Israeli government, with Israeli Defense Forces making it clear that they would dismantle Syria’s air defense network “without thinking twice.”
Citing other published reports that state that the IAF jets attacked the site with four bombs, The Drive writer says that “the fighters likely ventured deep into Syrian airspace to execute the retaliatory strike, if not coming within very close range of the SAM site itself.”
His report indicates that the particular model of aircraft that was fired upon was not disclosed but “everything from high-flying Gulfstream jets to F-15Cs with large reconnaissance pods are known to be active intelligence collectors.”
Even the IAF’s high-end fighters’ basic electronic warfare and electronic support measures suites are capable of gathering critical intel on the enemy’s electronic order of battle, with the country’s new F-35Is being especially well suited for such a task, according to “The Drive” report.
Back in June of this year, the TPS news outlet reported that IDF forces struck Syrian targets after several projectiles landed in open areas on the Israeli side of the border. At the time, the IDF said it had hit two Syrian artillery cannons and a truck carrying ammunition.
The IDF then issued a statement saying that while Israel is not involved in the Syrian civil war, it “nevertheless severely condemns any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its residents, and considers the Syrian regime responsible for what is happening in its own territory.”
“The IDF attacked Syrian army positions yesterday in response to mortar fire into Israeli territory. Our policy is very clear, we will not accept any drizzle of fire – not mortars, not rockets and not light weapons – on any front,” Netanyahu said at the time. “We will react forcefully to any violation of our territory.”
The IDF released aerial video footage showing air force strikes on two Syrian Army tanks and a machine gun position after some 10 projectiles had landed in the Golan Heights in what it called an “unacceptable breach of sovereignty.”
The IDF sent a complaint about the errant fire into Israeli territory to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), responsible for maintaining the ceasefire and disengagement agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces since 1974.
In July of this year, a Russian-American-Jordanian brokered ceasefire went into effect in the southwest of the war-torn country, including in areas running along the Golan Heights border.
“We will continue to monitor developments beyond our borders while strongly upholding our red lines: Prevent the strengthening of Hezbollah via Syria, with emphasis on the acquisition of precision weapons, prevent Hezbollah – or Iranian forces – from establishing a ground presence along our border, and prevent the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria as a whole,” Netanyahu said at the time.
While adding that Israel welcomes a ceasefire, Netanyahu added that it must not “enable the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria in general and in southern Syria in particular.”
Netanyahu said he held “deep discussions” on the matter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Both told me that they understand Israel’s position and will take our demands into account,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egypt announced on Sunday evening that it would not be reopening the Rafah border crossing with Gaza as it planned, following an Islamic State (ISIS) attack in northern Sinai which claimed the lives of six Egyptian soldiers.
The crossing was supposed to be reopened between Monday and Thursday following the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal which was reached last week.
The Egyptian military said earlier on Sunday that in addition to the soldiers, at least 24 jihadist were killed in attacks on military outposts in North Sinai.
The statement, which was quoted by Reuters, did not give details, but security and medical sources said about 20 members of the security forces had also been injured when more than 100 jihadists repeatedly attacked security outposts south of the border town of Sheikh Zuweid.
The attackers used car bombs and rocket propelled grenades (RPG), the sources said. They also clashed with the security forces using light weapons, they added.
Egyptian forces have been battling a growing insurgency in the northern Sinai for years. Most of the attacks in the region have been claimed by the Sinai Province, ISIS’ Egypt affiliate which pledged allegiance to the jihadists in 2014.
On Friday, ISIS claimed an attack on security forces in the peninsula that killed at least six soldiers.
Last month, ISIS killed 18 people in an attack on a security convoy in Egypt’s North Sinai.
Egyptian authorities have kept the Rafah crossing virtually sealed since a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, though they have temporarily reopened the crossingseveral times since that attack, mostly for the passage of humanitarian cases.
Egypt blames Hamas terrorists for providing the weapons for the lethal 2014 attack, which killed 30 soldiers, through one of its smuggling tunnels under the border to Sinai. Hamas denies the allegations.
In addition to keeping the crossing closed, Egypt has shut down the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, which terrorists use to smuggle weapons, and has also built a buffer zone along the border, expelling large numbers of people from their homes for that purpose.
By: Walter Metuth
(i24 News, the Guardian & INN)