Netanyahu Signals Israel Will Act With Free Hand in Syria

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
View of the fence separating northern Israel from Syria, in the Golan Heights. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

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

“We are controlling our borders, we are protecting our country and we will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to members of the Likud Party in the Knesset.

“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.”

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.

Israel has been lobbying both leaders to deny permanent bases in Syria to Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, and to keep them away from the Golan Heights frontier, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.

Netanyahu’s remarks echoed those on Sunday by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who sounded circumspect about the ceasefire deal and said Israel has “set red lines and will stand firm on this.”

The IDF has said it has carried out around 100 strikes in Syria. Attacks have targeted suspected Hezbollah or Iranian arms depots or have come in retaliation for shelling from the Syrian-held Golan.

A U.S. State Department official has said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel.

The move, according to one Israeli official briefed on the arrangement, is meant to keep rival factions inside Syria away from each other, but it would effectively keep Iranian-linked forces at various distances from the Israeli side of the Golan as well.

Those distances would range from as little as 3–4 miles and up to around 18 miles depending on current rebel positions on the Syrian Golan, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.