Liberman pledges Israeli help in fighting Islamic State

Foreign minister tells John Kerry that Jerusalem is ready to lend a hand against group, though it is aware of regional sensitivities of coalition members

Avigdor Liberman, left, and John Kerry meeting in Washington on Wednesday, September 18, 2014. photo credit: Jordan Silverman/Foreign Ministry)
Avigdor Liberman, left, and John Kerry meeting in Washington on Wednesday, September 18, 2014. photo credit: Jordan Silverman/Foreign Ministry)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pledged Jerusalem’s support for American efforts to fight Islamic State jihadists in the region, saying in a meeting with US counterpart John Kerry late Wednesday that Israel was engaged in the same kind of battle against Palestinian group Hamas.

The powwow between the two in Washington came a day after Kerry wrapped up a several-day swing through the Middle East and Europe to garner support for a coalition to thwart the Islamic State terror group, which has seized wide swaths of land in Iraq and Syria and heightened terror alerts throughout the world.

Liberman told Kerry that “Israel supports the US and backs its efforts to create a wide international front in the war against the Islamic State, and is available to the US should it ask for help in this battle,” according to a statement from Liberman’s office.

The statement also noted that Israel was “keeping in mind sensitivities within the lineup of countries that are taking part and in coordination with US needs,” a reference to a number of Arab countries that have vowed support for the effort.

Israel is expected to take a silent role, if any, in the fight against the jihadist group. Earlier in the month, Reuters reported that Israel had secretly been providing the US with satellite photos of Islamic State positions, which were then scrubbed of any features that could identify their origins and passed on to other countries in the region.

On Sunday, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel was unlikely to take a direct role against the group, though if Jordan asked, it would step in.

Liberman also compared Islamic State to Hamas, the Gazan terror group Israel fought a bloody 50-day war against over the summer, telling Kerry that the battle against terror was the most important one faced today.

“At the end of the day Islamic terror has one goal — the destruction of Western civilization,” Liberman said according to his office, adding that only the terminology and methodology between Hamas and Islamic State differed.

He also said that Israel should not negotiate with Hamas, despite the fact that Israel is set to enter into indirect talks with the group in Egypt over a long-term ceasefire in Gaza.

The statement was an echo of earlier claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two groups are “separate branches of the same poisonous tree.”

However, it runs counter to the assessment of a senior IDF officer, who said Wednesday that whereas Islamic State could not be talked to, Hamas and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah can both be negotiated with.

“They want an uncontested religious rule, and they are opposed to anything modern or liberal,” the officer said of the Islamic State.

The military intelligence officer said Wednesday that Israel would likely assist the global effort against the Islamic State group if asked, but maintained that the jihadists did not pose an immediate threat to the Jewish State

“If Israel has intelligence on IS targets in Syria, and we are asked to hand it over to the global coalition against the organization, I believe we will do it,” the officer told Hebrew media.

During the meeting, Liberman asked Kerry to lift an American travel warning for Israel, telling the secretary of state that there is no danger to visitors’ security since the end of the summer military campaign in Gaza.

Adding that Israelis thought of the US as their greatest ally, Liberman also reiterated Israel’s stance on nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the US, asking Kerry to remain firm in the talks, slated to restart Thursday, and to keep the sanctions regime in place.

Marissa Newman and Spencer Ho contributed to this report.

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