Liberman warns Assad planning to rebuild large Syrian army after civil war

Defense minister also praises Trump’s reimposition of Iran sanctions, saying Tehran was using relief provided by nuke deal not to support its economy but rather to fund terror

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad “is not satisfied” with regaining control of southern Syria and plans to rebuild the Syrian military into an even larger force than it was on the eve of the civil war.

“We see the Syrian army, which is not satisfied with taking control of all the Syrian territory, but is clearly building a new, large-scale land army that will return to its previous dimensions and beyond,” Liberman said, speaking to reporters after watching a military exercise of the IDF’s Armored Corps in the Golan Heights.

“Therefore we are following all the developments and are ready for any scenario,” he added.

Liberman said that the Armored Corps, which was instrumental in stopping the Syrian surprise assault in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, remained essential to Israel’s defense. “The Armored Corps was and will be the main force of the IDF in every ground operation, especially here in the north,” he said.

Last month, Syrian government forces reached the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights after capturing territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman climbs down from a tank in the Golan Heights on August 7, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

It was the first time government forces had taken up positions along the frontier since an uprising against Assad swept through the country in 2011, becoming a seven-year civil war. Islamic State fighters later seized territory from rebels along the frontier region.

Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian conflict but acknowledges carrying out dozens of airstrikes there to stop deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.

It has also pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.

With Syrian forces now in close proximity, there have already been clashes between the two armies and Israel has insisted that the Syrian military respect the 1974 ceasefire agreement reached between Jerusalem and Damascus after the previous year’s Yom Kippur War. The agreement limits the forces each side can keep in the border region.

On July 24, a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, traveling approximately two kilometers (one mile) before it was downed when the IDF fired two Patriot interceptor missiles.

On July 13, a Patriot shot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

Liberman on Iran sanctions

Liberman also again hailed the US decision to reimpose sanctions against Iran. The sanctions went into effect Tuesday.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (c) speaks at a briefing with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) and Head of Northern Command Yoel Strick on August 7, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“The renewal of the sanctions on Iran is especially necessary for those who are fighting against terrorism,” he said Tuesday, arguing that the billions of dollars Tehran received in relief as a result of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action did not go to the Islamic Republic’s economy, but rather toward funding its Revolutionary Guard, the al-Quds Force, Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq and Houthi militias in Yemen.

“Therefore, we strongly support the decision of President Trump,” the defense minister said, urging the White House to follow through with its second round of sanctions, slated to go into effect on November 5.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: