IDF says its efforts to keep Iran from Syrian foothold are succeeding
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IDF says its efforts to keep Iran from Syrian foothold are succeeding

Military chief says Islamic Republic’s capabilities ‘far’ from what they sought, army will continue to counter Iranian attempts to establish permanent presence

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

This file photo provided on Friday October 20, 2017 by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media shows Iran's army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking at a map with senior officers from the Iranian military as they visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)
This file photo provided on Friday October 20, 2017 by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media shows Iran's army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking at a map with senior officers from the Iranian military as they visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

Iran’s military capabilities in Syria are far from what the Islamic Republic had sought, thanks to Israeli action, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday.

The comment was the clearest indication yet that Israel believes it is nearing victory after a several-year campaign to keep Tehran from gaining a foothold near the Golan Heights, though other officials have warned Iran and its proxies still pose a challenge in the area.

The army chief praised the IDF Northern Command for its effort in blocking Iranian forces from establishing a permanent military presence in southern Syria, near the Israeli border, and from transferring precision-guided missiles to the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon.

“The fact that their abilities are far from what Iran and terror groups desired is the result of high-quality, ongoing operational activity,” Eisenkot said, while visiting the Northern Command’s Bashan Division in the Golan Heights.

“The IDF will continue to thwart these efforts [by Iran and Hezbollah], while preserving the security situation in the north in the long term, from a dedication to defending citizens of the State of Israel,” he said.

Eisenkot was accompanied by Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick and other senior officers, the Israel Defense Forces said.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, walks with Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, center, during a visit to the Syrian border on November 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier this week, Strick warned that Iran and Hezbollah were still working to establish a permanent military presence in southern Syria — similar to Hezbollah’s efforts in southern Lebanon — to threaten the State of Israel.

At an event on the Golan Heights Sunday, the Northern Command chief said this situation continues to be the case despite the “stabilizing” effect that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who took control of the area this summer, has had on the border zone.

As part of Assad’s offensive against the rebel groups in southern Syria, his ally Russia agreed to keep Iranian-backed militias away from the Israeli border.

Syrian officials at the Quneitra border crossing with Israel on October 15, 2018. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

According to Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, Russia convinced Iran to keep its troops in Syria some 100 kilometers from the Israeli border.

During his visit to the northern border Tuesday, Eisenkot was briefed on “recent developments in the fighting in Syria, Iranian entrenchment attempts and the activities of the Hezbollah organization in Syria,” the army said.

Israel has vowed to prevent Lebanon-based Hezbollah or Iranian proxy militias in Syria from obtaining advanced, precision-guided weapons that could threaten the Jewish state and has worked to keep Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria that can be used to attack Israel.

To those ends, the Israeli military has conducted hundreds of airstrikes and other operations against Iranian targets in Syria, according to Israeli officials and foreign media reports.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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