Concluding a visit to Syria on Saturday, the commander of Iran’s armed forces signed a memorandum of understanding with Syrian officials in which the two allies announced plans for tighter military cooperation and coordination.
The sides agreed to expand cooperation on intelligence, training, technology and against “Zionist-American schemes,” the Ynet news website reported.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s chief of staff, has spent several days in Syria, touring war zones and meeting with high-level officials, including President Bashar Assad.
Assad’s meeting with 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, state news agency 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.
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 month-long 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.
On Saturday the Israeli army hit three Syrian artillery targets across the border in the northern Golan Heights, hours after five projectiles landed in open ground in Israel as a result of spillover fire from the fighting in Syria.
The IDF vowed it would intensify its responses to future such stray fire. “Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response,” a statement by the IIDF said.
Bagheri on Wednesday said Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.
“We cannot accept a situation where the Zionist entity attacks Syria from the ground and the air,” he said.