Liberman: ‘No Iranian Military Presence in Syria Right Now’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite recent reports that Iran was building a military base in Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in an interview with Yediot Acharonot Tuesday that “there is no Iranian military force in Syria.” With that, Liberman admitted that there were several hundred Iranian “advisors” in the country at any given time. “Experts and advisors from Iran are there, but there is no physical Iranian military presence in Syria.”

Liberman stressed that Israel would do anything necessary to prevent Iran from operating in Syria. “We will not get involved in Syria’s internal affairs, as long as Syria does not threaten us militarily. If we do feel threatened by Syria, we will intervene.”

A recent report said that Iran was building a permanent military base in southern Syria. The base is being built at a site near the town of El-Kiswah, 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus and about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights. The report was based on intelligence from “Western security sources,” the report said.

In satellite images published by the BBC, several buildings that appear to be storage facilities — for vehicles or weapons — are seen along a staging ground, with other buildings, one of them like a headquarters, adjacent. According to the images, construction is at an advanced stage.

Over the weekend, Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said that Iran would intervene if Israel attacks Hezbollah. Jafari made the threat in a speech in Tehran, saying that while Iran had not done so in the past, it would intervene, “and our actions will bring to an end the Zionist entity.”

Iran had previously said last Thursday that it would keep its troops in Syria, despite the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared victory over Islamic State.

Iran’s threat comes on the background of claims by Hezbollah that Israel is preparing to attack it. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah earlier this month said that Israel was involved in the recent spate of disagreements between Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis, he said, had paid Israel billions of dollars to attack Lebanon. “This is not speculation, but based on facts,” said Nasrallah. With that, Israel would think twice about the Saudi deal, given that the price it would pay would be “very high.” Israel was doing all it could to destabilize Lebanon, undertaking actions such as funding groups that seek to unseat Bashar al-Assad as president of Syria. “Israel is trying to start a civil war,” Nasrallah said. “Let them not think we are confused or afraid. We are stronger today than ever.”