Israel may ‘target’ Iran activity in Syria, Netanyahu said to tell Macron
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'We won't hesitate to act, if our security needs require it'

Israel may ‘target’ Iran activity in Syria, Netanyahu said to tell Macron

According to reported transcript of phone call, PM says the goal must be to minimize Tehran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, waves as he stands next to French President Emmanuel Macron, right, upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on July 15, 2017 ahead of their meeting. (AFP Photo/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, waves as he stands next to French President Emmanuel Macron, right, upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on July 15, 2017 ahead of their meeting. (AFP Photo/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

Israel sees Iranian activity in Syria as “a target” for its forces, and may carry out strikes against Iranian objectives if security needs require it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call this week.

Channel 10 reported Wednesday that it had obtained a transcript of Sunday’s call. In it, Netanyahu is said to have told the French leader that “from now on, Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target. We will not hesitate to act, if our security needs require us to do so.”

Macron reportedly attempted to reassure the Israeli leader and dissuade him from “hasty” action.

The conversation took place a day after Macron met in Paris with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Macron, seeking to calm regional concerns over Lebanon’s leadership crisis, is said to have informed Netanyahu that Hariri planned to officially resign upon returning to Lebanon.

The Israeli leader, according to the transcript, said in response that he was not interested in Lebanon’s internal issues.

“I don’t care who the Lebanese prime minister is or what goes on in the internal politics there. What worries me is the strengthening of Hezbollah with Iran’s support,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “What’s important is that all the factions in Lebanon work to prevent the arming of Hezbollah with additional advanced weaponry. The goal must be to minimize Iran’s influence, not only in Lebanon but also in Syria.

“Israel has tried up until now not to intervene in what is going on in Syria. But after the victory over Islamic State, the situation has changed because the pro-Iranian forces have taken control,” the prime minister went on.

Netanyahu then reportedly warned: “From now on, Israel sees Iran’s activities in Syria as a target. We will not hesitate to act, if our security needs require us to do so.”

Macron reportedly tried to reassure and calm Netanyahu: “I agree that the influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon must be minimized. But Lebanon’s stability must be maintained. Cautious action, not hasty action, is required.”

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) embraces Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) after their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on November 18, 2017 in Paris. (AFP/Bertrand Guay)

Macron also reportedly spoke with Netanyahu about the state of the nuclear accord with Iran, saying “It’s important to keep the nuclear deal. We must support the moderates in Iran and not make it harder for them.”

On Tuesday Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone about a ceasefire deal in the Syrian civil war and Iranian presence near Israel’s borders with the war-torn country, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The conversation was the latest in a series of high-level contacts between Israel and Russia, amid a dispute between the countries over allowing Iran and Shiite militias backed by Tehran to maintain a foothold in Syria near the Israeli border.

“The conversation lasted about half an hour and dealt with Syria, and Iran’s attempt to entrench itself in Syria,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “Netanyahu insisted on Israeli security and reiterated his opposition to Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.”

The conversation came a day after Moscow’s envoy to Israel said Iran’s military presence in Syria was solely dedicated to the “war on terrorism.”

“Russia respects the Israeli concerns in the field of national security,” Alexander Shein wrote in a message posted on his official Facebook page.

On October 17, Netanyahu met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Jerusalem, where the two men discussed the Islamic Republic’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria.

“Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu told Shoigu, according to his office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meeting in the former’s office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2017. (Prime Minister’s Office)

According to an unnamed Israeli official, under the Syrian ceasefire deal, militias associated with Iran would be allowed to maintain positions as close as five to seven kilometers (3.1-4.3 miles) to the border in some areas, Reuters reported last week.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel will not tolerate Iran’s presence in Syria as part of the US-Russian ceasefire deal, especially near the Israeli border.

“We simply will not allow Shiite and Iranian entrenchment in Syria. And we will not allow all of Syria to become a forward-operating base against the State of Israel. Whoever doesn’t understand that — should understand that,” Liberman said.

The Israeli Air Force has carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys bound for the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, though it rarely acknowledges individual raids. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to help Assad’s forces put down the insurgency, which has dragged on for six years.

Earlier this month, the BBC, citing a Western security official, reported that Iran was setting up a permanent base on a site used by the Syrian army near el-Kiswah, 14 kilometers (8 miles) south of Damascus, and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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