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Iran says it will keep its forces, weapons in Syria despite Netanyahu threat

Comment by Revolutionary Guard commander comes after PM warned Tehran to ‘get out of there quickly,’ saying Israel would continue airstrikes

The head of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks at a conference in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
The head of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks at a conference in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

A top Iranian general said Wednesday that his country will maintain its military presence in Syria, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would press ahead with its campaign against Iranian entrenchment in the war-torn country.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep its military advisers, revolutionary forces and its weapons in Syria,” said the commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Ali Jafari, according to the Reuters news agency which cited Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency.

Netanyahu told the Iranians to “get out” of Syria on Tuesday, mocking claims from Tehran that it did not have a military presence in Syria but only advisers.

“I advise them to get out of there quickly because we will continue our offensive policy as we promised and as we do without fear and without pause,” the premier said at a ceremony at army headquarters in Tel Aviv to install new IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi.

He added that the country was ready to fight and win a “multi-front war,” in apparent reference to concerns over twin tensions on the southern and northern borders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a handover ceremony for the new IDF chief of staff on January 15, 2019, at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

On Sunday, Netanyahu openly admitted that Israel bombed Iranian targets in Damascus over the weekend. The strike destroyed a number of weapons caches in the Damascus airport, Netanyahu said.

Israel typically refrains from commenting on individual airstrikes in Syria, but does generally acknowledge that it carries out raids against Iranian- and Hezbollah-linked targets in the country.

Over the weekend, outgoing chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said for the first time that Israel had dropped thousands of bombs on Iranian targets in Syria, breaking the silence on the breadth of the campaign.

Responding to Netanyahu’s statement on the Damascus airport bombing, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said Monday that Iran did not have any military bases or military presence in Syria, and was only in the country “at the request of the Syrian government for advisory mission and fighting the terrorists,” according to a report by Iran’s official news agency, IRNA.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

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