‘Israel’s biggest challenge: Iranians on our northern border’

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz responds to Arabic press reports suggesting new Iran-Russia reconfiguration in Syria will see Iranian troops deployed in Quneitra, along border with Israel

Daniel Siryoti and Israel Hayom Staff

While Iran’s and Russia’s growing involvements in the ongoing Syrian civil war are not secret, new details reported in the Arabic-language press are causing massive concern for Israel.

According to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, Russia and Iran have agreed to deploy special military units to Syria to take active parts in the fighting there. Furthermore, the paper reported, Tehran and Moscow have re-coordinated their military operations on Syrian soil, redistributing their involvement in a way that will bring Iranian troops to Israel’s border.

The new configuration of troops will see Russian forces in Latakia and Aleppo, while Iranian forces will be responsible for Damascus and areas to the south, including Daraa and Quneitra, the latter in the Syrian Golan Heights, along the border with Israel.

According to the report, Iranian troops have already been stationed in Damascus, and a plane landed in Syria this week carrying some 100 Iranian soldiers and military officers.

The latest influx of soldiers includes Iranian special forces trained in urban combat, and marks Tehran’s first official participation in ground combat in Syria.

Speaking to Army Radio on Tuesday, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said that “the biggest, most dangerous challenge for us would be an Iranian military presence in Syria, on our northern border. It would be a direct ground front with Iran.”

He said that Western efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict must include measures to keep Iranian forces out of Syria.

“We need to make sure that under any potential agreement the Iranian military remains in Iran so we don’t see a significant Iranian presence in Syria,” he said. “No one wants to see Russian military forces in the Golan Heights. That is also cause for concern. Russia is still the second strongest military power in the world. But we certainly don’t want to see Iranian forces right next to Israel.”

Asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad should remain in power or be deposed, Steinitz said Israel’s express decision was to not become involved.

“Israel has no official policy on the matter because we have wisely decided not to get involved in the Syrian civil war. We don’t decide who should be there and who should go,” he said. “I think that as soon as the civil war began, the prime minister decided not to get involved. With all the brutality and cruelty of it, it is still a war between Arabs, between Muslims and Muslims.”

Steinitz said that in his view, the global war on Sunni terrorism, as “cruel and alarming” as it may be, “cannot come with a price of supporting Shiite terrorism, like Iranian terrorism or Hezbollah.”

September 29, 2015 | Comments »

Leave a Reply