Israel at UN: Iran has more than 80,000 fighters in Syria

Ambassador Danon presents satellite photo of alleged Iranian base near Damascus, indicates Israel would take military action to prevent Tehran from getting nukes

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

A military base outside Damascus that Israel says is being used by Iran to induct and train Shiite militiamen. (Israeli delegation to the United Nations)
A military base outside Damascus that Israel says is being used by Iran to induct and train Shiite militiamen. (Israeli delegation to the United Nations)

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday presented an aerial photograph of an alleged Iranian base outside Damascus that he said Tehran was using to bring in and train tens of thousands of fighters for the militias it backs in Syria.

“There are over 80,000 extremists from all over the Middle East who are members of Shia militias in Syria under Iranian control,” Danny Danon told the UN Security Council.

The satellite image showed what appeared to be a military installation in the mountains northwest of Syria’s capital.

The base serves as “Iran’s central induction and recruitment center in Syria,” Danon said. The ambassador did not provide evidence to support the claim.

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“It is at this base, just over five miles from Damascus, where these dangerous extremists are trained and then assigned their missions of terror throughout Syria and the region,” he said.

Israel had never before claimed this site was an Iranian base.

Danny Danon, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, addresses the UN Security Council meeting on October 18, 2017. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

In his speech to the Security Council, Danon also discussed the May 12 deadline by which US President Donald Trump must decide if the United States will remain part of the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Trump has demanded that significant changes be made to the agreement if the US is to continue to abide by it. Iran has opposed all changes, and indicated it will not be bound by the accord if the US is not.

“President Trump is focused on these important changes because he knows it will make the world safer. All the signatories of this agreement must now make a choice: Do you support these necessary changes? Or, will you choose to enable the Iranian regime that supports terror and is attempting to take over the Middle East?” Danon said.

The ambassador indicated that Israel was prepared to take military action if necessary in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Israel has a very clear policy and it has been so since the administration of prime minister Menahem Begin. We will not allow regimes that seek our destruction to acquire nuclear weapons. Period,” he said.

Under this policy, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

A Palestinian man hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Danon also commented on the recent protests and clashes along the Gaza border, in which 40 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry.

“Israel has an obligation to protect our citizens and we will do so while minimizing civilian casualties to the other side but let me be clear: Israel will never apologize for defending our country,” the ambassador said.

“It is Hamas that is fully responsible for every Palestinian injury and death that has resulted from these incidents,” he added.

In recent months, Israeli officials have identified a number of air bases throughout Syria that they said are being used by Iranian forces. This appears to be a coordinated effort to deter Iran from carrying out a retaliatory strike against Israel, after an alleged Iranian drone facility in central Syria was bombed earlier this month, reportedly by Israel.

A map of Syria, provided to Israeli media, April 17, 2018, shows the approximate locations of five bases that Israel believes to be controlled by Iran. These are Damascus International Airport; the Sayqal air base; the T-4 air base; an airfield near Aleppo; and a base in Deir Ezzor. Their exact locations on the map are not entirely accurate. The Sayqal base, for instance, is located east of Damascus, not south of it as it appears on the map.

Last week, for instance, Israeli media outlets were provided by the IDF with a map showing five Iranian-controlled bases in Syria, which would apparently constitute potential targets for an Israeli response should Iran carry out any kind of attack.

Satellite photographs of some of these bases were also provided.

Iranian officials have made increasingly bellicose remarks following the April 9 strike on the T-4 air base, near Palmyra in central Syria, which killed at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the head of its drone program, Col. Mehdi Dehghan.

Iran, Syria, Russia, and some US officials have all said explicitly that Israel was responsible for the strike. Israeli officials refuse to comment on the matter.

Israel sees Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as its central enemy in the region. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, marking it as a “red line” that it will fight militarily if necessary.

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