Assad discusses military cooperation with visiting Iranian general
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Assad discusses military cooperation with visiting Iranian general

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri stresses Tehran's commitment to help in Syrian reconstruction efforts, amid Israeli fears of bolstered Iranian presence

President Bashar Assad greets religious leaders at a mosque in Damascus in a picture posted to social media on December 12, 2016. (Instagram/Syrian Presidency)
President Bashar Assad greets religious leaders at a mosque in Damascus in a picture posted to social media on December 12, 2016. (Instagram/Syrian Presidency)

Syrian President Bashar Assad met Thursday with a visiting Iranian army commander to discuss military cooperation between the two countries in the ongoing civil war raging in Syria as well as across the region, according to the SANA state news agency.

Assad’s meeting with Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri focused on bilateral relations in all fields, mainly military cooperation, “which has witnessed a qualitative development during the war that Syria and its allies, mainly Iran, are waging against terrorism” in Syria, SANA reported.

Iran has been one of Assad’s strongest supporters since the country’s crisis began more than six years ago and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen to boost his troops against opponents.

SANA quoted Bagheri as saying that the aim of his visit is to “put a joint strategy on continuing coordination and cooperation at the military level.” He also stressed Iran’s commitment to help in the reconstruction process in Syria.

Bagheri met with several Syrian officials on Wednesday, including Defense Minister Fahd Jasem al-Freij, and Syrian army commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Ayyoub.

The meetings come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that he will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria.

“Iran has to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu said Tuesday after a meeting with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu focused mostly on Iran’s efforts to establish a presence next door, where both Tehran and Moscow have provided crucial support to Assad’s forces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meeting in the former’s office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2017. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Israel fears Iran will plant itself on the country’s doorstep by establishing a Shiite “corridor,” with land links from Iran to Lebanon, allowing the movement of fighters and weapons across the region. At the heart of those fears is Hezbollah, which battled Israel to a stalemate in a monthlong war in 2006.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria but has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged weapons convoys bound for the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group.

Israeli tanks struck a Syrian army mortar position near the city of Quneitra on Thursday, hours after a shell from Syria landed in the northern Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The mortar shell landed in an open field on the Golan Heights in an apparent case of spillover fire from the fighting in Syria, the army said. There were no reports of injuries or property damage.

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