Liberman on Syria strikes: Israel keeping WMDs from Hezbollah
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'We are trying to prevent the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction'

Liberman on Syria strikes: Israel keeping WMDs from Hezbollah

In rare admission, defense minister tells EU ambassadors IAF active in Syria, says peace with Palestinians far off

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) shakes hands with EU ambassador Lars Faaborg Anderson during a meeting on December 7, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) shakes hands with EU ambassador Lars Faaborg Anderson during a meeting on December 7, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman acknowledged that Israel was responsible for recent attacks in Syria, saying on Wednesday that they were meant to prevent “advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction” from reaching Hezbollah.

Speaking to ambassadors from the European Union, Liberman did not specify what incident or incidents he was referring to, speaking only about “what was done in Syria,” according to a statement from his office.

“We are working, first and foremost, to defend the safety of our citizens and to protect our sovereignty, and we are trying to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah,” he said.

His office refused to expand on what weapons of mass destruction Hezbollah may have been trying to acquire. In the past, however, Israeli officials, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, have expressed concerns that the terrorist group may specifically receive chemical weapons from the Syrian regime.

During the meeting with EU officials, the defense minister also laid out his view for how Israel would like to see the Syrian civil war resolved and his skepticism at the prospects of a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman poses for a photograph with European Union ambassadors to Israel during a meeting on December 7, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman poses for a photograph with European Union ambassadors to Israel during a meeting on December 7, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

One EU ambassador told The Times of Israel that a “good, constructive conversation” had been held with Liberman, but expressed “deep concern” over the so-called regulation bill, which would legalize some Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land.

“They entire world is watching” what Israel is doing with this bill, the ambassador said, requesting anonymity.

On Wednesday morning, a bombing near a Damascus military airport was blamed on Israel.

Screen shot of footage of alleged Israeli missile strike on the Syrian Mazzeh airbase near Damascus on December 7, 2016. (Credit: Twitter)
Screen shot of footage of alleged Israeli missile strike on the Syrian Mazzeh airbase near Damascus on December 7, 2016. (Credit: Twitter)

“At 3:00 a.m., the Israeli enemy fired several surface-to-surface missiles from inside occupied territory,” the Syrian state news agency SANA said, citing a military source. The report said the Israeli missiles caused a large fire but no injuries or deaths.

Last week, Israeli planes also reportedly struck both a weapons site near the Syrian capital and a Hezbollah convoy, causing some large explosions but also no casualties.

Israel generally does not officially admit to carrying out attacks deep inside Syria, though it has publicly maintained it will not allow advanced weapons to be transferred to Hezbollah.

In his remarks, the defense minister insisted that Israel is not interested in getting involved in the Syrian civil war, but will work to defend itself.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, speaks with Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, left, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 (Syrian presidency Facebook page)
Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, speaks with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, left, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 (Syrian presidency Facebook page)

Regarding an eventual resolution to the civil war, which has been raging since 2011 and has caused the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of people, Liberman said he would be amenable to any peace deal — so long as it does not include Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“When I am asked, time after time, what a possible future agreement with Syria will be like, I say that my position is that regardless of what agreement will be in Syria — the Iranians and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad have to be out of Syria and not be a part of any deal,” Liberman said.

The defense minister also dismissed the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians anytime soon, calling it “unrealistic and impossible” for one to be reached at the point in time.

Jewish residents of the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, seen walking on the streets of the outpost on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish residents of the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, seen walking on the streets of the outpost on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The notion of a permanent solution will have to be postponed for at least a few years, and in the meantime, we need to ensure normal lives in Judea and Samaria for both Jews and Palestinians,” Liberman said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

The defense minister scolded European leaders in general for considering Israeli settlements to be “the biggest problem in the world,” pointing to deadlier conflicts around the world.

“At least five hundred people are killed each day in the Middle East, from South Sudan to Iraq, which is much more serious and important than what is happening in Amona, but this is something you don’t see in the European press,” he said.

Addressing the EU ambassadors directly, he said: “The fact that you are always talking about the settlements is hypocritical. I’m waiting for you to start talking about North Korea and the Iranians’ ballistic missiles.”

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