Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to continue to act against Iranian entrenchment in Syria, days after a high-level trilateral meeting with the US and Russia.
Netanyahu also warned that an Israeli retreat from the Jordan Valley in the West Bank would lead to war, speaking at a ceremony for pilots graduating from the Israeli Air Force’s 178th flight school training program.
“We will continue to act against Iran’s attempt to establish itself in Syria, with the air force having a central role,” Netanyahu told the new pilots.
“We always remember that we must be ready to protect ourselves with our own strength against every threat, that is the basic principle which assures our future.”
The comments came two days after Jerusalem hosted US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Russia’s security adviser Nikolai Patrushev, with National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, for talks revolving around Syria and Iran.
In statements to the press, Patrushev rejected the view held by the US and Israel that Iran represents “the main threat to regional security” and said Israeli airstrikes in Syria against Iranian forces and its proxies were “undesirable.”
Israel has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years targeting Iranian military assets and infrastructure which it sees as a threat to the Jewish state. Iranian-backed militias are in Syria helping the regime end a bloody civil war which has dragged on for over eights years.
Patrushev said Moscow was aware of Israel’s concerns regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria and was working to address the issue with Tehran. But he stressed that Iran “was and remains our ally and partner.”
Israel has long sought Russian backing for its demand that Iranian forces leave Syria upon the conclusion of the country’s civil war.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said Moscow had used the tripartite meeting to make clear that they would not allow US and Israeli opposition to Iran’s activities to divert attention from the broader need to rehabilitate Syria as the civil war draws to a close.
“The talks between the secretaries of the Russian and US security councils, their Israeli colleague and also Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu were useful in the sense that, as I hope, our colleagues made it clear to our partners that we would not support any attempts to move the entire Syrian discussion onto an anti-Iran track, simply because this approach to the problem is completely wrong and twisted,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow.
According to Israel, the Tuesday trilateral summit was aimed specifically at countering Iran, including both its nuclear aspirations and its influence throughout the Middle East.
Netanyahu also reiterated his stance that Israel could not give up security control of the Jordan Valley, warning war would be the result.
“We do not have much space separating the country’s borders from populated areas,” Netanyahu said. “Hence, we conclude that the area to the west of the Jordan will always be in our hands. If we give up the Jordan Valley, we will ensure that there will be a war.”
Netanyahu has recently stressed the strategic importance of the Jordan Valley after the White House released its proposal to boost the Palestinian economy by offering a $50 billion aid package that can only be implemented through an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Part of Washington’s so-called Peace to Prosperity plan appeared to call for Palestinian control of border crossings, including those in the Jordan Valley. The proposal is the economic portion of the as-yet unveiled Trump administration peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is expected to be made public at the end of the year after Israeli elections on September 17.
President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi were also at the ceremony on Thursday held at the Hatzerim Air Base in the south of the country.
Kohavi said Israel would not allow terror groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to seek shelter by hiding among local civilian populations.
“While we are doing all we can to avoid harming civilians, the enemy makes every effort to harm civilians,” Kohavi said. “This is the clearest expression of being a terrorist army – organized in units with military means and also using terror while ignoring international law, morality and values. This is a situation that must not be allowed. Not by us, and not by the international community. We won’t allow urban areas to be a shield for the enemy.”
Agencies contributed to this report.