A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he stressed Israel’s vital security interest in denying Iran a base in Syria, two senior Israel officials and a former national security advisor made it clear that Israel is not merely asking for cooperation.
“Iran, through the Revolutionary Guard, is trying to create a new reality around us with Iranian air and naval bases in Syria, with Shiite militias with thousands of mercenaries and precision weapons being produced in Lebanon,” he said. “The state of Israel does not intend to remain a bystander and accept these attempts,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The comment was made at a meeting with the Forum of the Directors-General and Chairmen of the Israel Institute of Energy and Environment, where Education Minister Naftali Bennett and former national security advisor Major General (Ret.) Yaakov Amidror also gave their views.
“We’ll do everything in our power to ensure no Iranians will stand at our borders,” Bennett was quoted by Ynet as saying.
Regarding Netanyahu’s trip to Russia on Wednesday, Bennett indicate that Israel was not relying on Vladimir Putin to guarantee its security.
“At the end of the day, whether we’re turning to the U.S. or to Russia, we’ll try to harness them but won’t rely solely on them,” he stated. “Israel reserves the right to defend itself by itself, including against the Iranians near our borders. We’re always keeping up-to-date on the processes in play here, it’s one of the more vital and sensitive issues on our plate. At the moment, as we speak, Iran is funneling Shiite and Iranian militias into Syria.”
On the subject of Islamic State, which has reportedly been preoccupying the Americans and Russians more than Iran, Bennett said it was not the biggest problem.
“It’s a meaningful one, but tactical nonetheless,” he said, “and you don’t sacrifice a strategic interest of preventing the creation of a Persian empire from Tehran to the Mediterranean to solve a tactical problem.”
Amidror didn’t want to belittle the channel of communication with Moscow.
“Russia is one of the more important forces in determining Syria’s fate, making their meeting crucial,” he said.
“Israel has a lot of strength and it needs to decide whether to put it to use. If it does, it should consider the reaction. The talk with Putin is important in order to make the Russians understand exactly what the Israeli interest is and what we plan to do, so they’re not caught off guard.”
On Iran’s ambitions in the region, specifically to establish a land corridor to the Mediterranean, Amidror said that it could not be overestimated.
“That’s without a doubt a seismic shift in the Middle East. It may actually be too big for Israel’s britches. Israel can do nothing to stop a corridor starting in Tehran, passing through Baghdad and terminating in Damascus, but it can draw red lines in Syria and say that if they’re crossed, it will retaliate.”
But he too was clear that Israel will act on its own if necessary.
“We’re not asking the Russians for permission,” he said, “but we have to make it clear to them where that line passes and should decide whether we act once it’s crossed—that is, the point beyond which Israel will forcefully respond to Iranian provocations.”