IDF chief: Main concern in past year was blocking Iran in Syria

Eisenkot lauds victories ‘hidden from view’ across the border, mourns the IDF’s first soldier killed in action in Gaza since 2014

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, on January 2, 2018. (FLASH90)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, on January 2, 2018. (FLASH90)

The prime focus of the Israel Defense Forces over the past year has been preventing Iranian forces from establishing a permanent presence in Syria, the head of the military said Monday.

According to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the military has seen a number of victories on that front, though they were largely out of the public eye.

“Over the past year, the campaign to prevent Iranian entrenchment north of the country was the main effort of the Israel Defense Forces, which led to many operational achievements, most of which were hidden from view,” Eisenkot said at an event for the Ametz Lochem (Adopt a Fighter) project.

The army chief said the military will continue to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria.

“We will continue to act to provide security and a feeling of security, to strengthen our deterrence [against Israel’s enemies] and our preparedness in order to allow the state to develop and grow in security,” he said.

A screen capture from a video purporting to show the aftermath of an Israeli strike on a research facility in the Masyaf area of northwest Syria on July 22, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The chief of staff’s comments came a day after the Syrian military accused Israel of conducting an airstrike against an Iran-linked weapons manufacturing facility in Masyaf, near Hama in northwestern Syria.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the the target was a facility “supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made.” In the past, the site was allegedly used to produce and store chemical weapons.

“One of our military positions in Masyaf was the target of an Israeli air aggression,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said, quoting a military source.

The IDF refused to confirm that it had conducted the strike, in keeping with its policy of not commenting on its alleged operations abroad.

A photo released on July 21, 2018, shows Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi of the Givati Brigade, who was killed by sniper fire from Gaza on July 20. (Israel Defense Forces)

During his speech on Monday night, the IDF chief also eulogized Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, who was shot dead by a Gazan sniper on Friday — the first Israeli soldier killed by an attack from the Strip since the 2014 Gaza war.

“His determination, heroism and understanding of the importance of combat service — these are a testament that he left behind and to which every soldier must aspire,” Eisenkot said.

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