Security cabinet said holding ‘significant’ meetings on threats from north

Security cabinet said holding ‘significant’ meetings on threats from north

Details of discussions withheld by IDF censor, but concerns about Syrian- and Iran-backed Hezbollah advances in the Golan known to be major issue

Israeli soldiers patrol the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, file (Basel Awidat/ Flash90)
Israeli soldiers patrol the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, file (Basel Awidat/ Flash90)

The security cabinet has convened several times in recent days to discuss the situation and threats along Israel’s northern borders, according to a report on Sunday that described the meetings “extremely significant.”

“Due to limitations imposed by the military censor, I can’t give the full information,” said Channel 10 diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, “but after more than a decade of covering the security cabinet, I can judge that the discussions over the last few days about the northern front were extremely significant.”

He added that the discussions were focused on the northern front, and among other issues dealt with the activities of Iran and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in Syria and Lebanon, as well as preparing for the day after the Syrian civil war ends, and the renewed control of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military over most of the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (2nd R) tour the northern border in the Golan Heights, on July 25, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Although he was unable to give more details of the meetings, Ravid referred to remarks made by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in October.

“Syria and Lebanon have become one military entity. Israel must prepare for a new challenge… on the northern front,” Liberman said at that time. “Any developments will be due to Hezbollah, Assad’s regime and all those collaborating with Assad’s regime, along with the Lebanese army. Unfortunately, this is the reality,” Ravid quoted the minister as saying.

Channel 10 reported that the situation on the northern front, and the Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon, was also of great concern to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has held telephone conversations recently with many world leaders, warning them of the volatile situation created by Iran setting up bases in these two countries, through Hezbollah and Shiite militias.

At the end of December, Assad’s troops, allegedly accompanied by Iranian-backed militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group, took over part of the Syrian Golan Heights from rebels, specifically around the city of Beit Jinn. Though much of the area along the border with Israel remains under rebel control.

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to The Associated Press at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria in a photo released by the Syrian presidency on September 21, 2016. (Syrian Presidency via AP)

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious threat to Israel was posed by the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, followed by other jihadist groups supported by Tehran positioned on Israel’s border with Syria.

Describing Iran as a “multidimensional threat,” the army chief said the most worrying aspect is the Islamic Republic’s desire to obtain nuclear capabilities, followed by its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.

He noted the nearly $1.5 billion that the country invests in its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and — increasingly — Palestinian terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on January 2, 2017. (Flash90)

According to Eisenkot, each year Iran sends between $700 million to $1 billion to Hezbollah each year, $100 million each to Shiite militias in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, rebels in Yemen and to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist groups.

The army chief did not provide the source for these figures.

In recent years, Eisenkot said, the Hezbollah terrorist group has transformed from a “so-called defender of Lebanon to an Iranian proxy in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

He said the group has significant defense capabilities and can also attack the Israeli homefront, making it a formidable foe. The group is generally seen by the army as the benchmark by which it measures its preparedness for war.

Eisenkot noted the group has suffered some setbacks while fighting in Syria in support of the regime, with some 2,000 fighters killed and 10,000 injured, but said that it has also earned “no small amount of experience, which worries us.”

Regarding Syria, the army chief continued, the IDF has taken, and will continue to take, military action in order to prevent the entrenchment of Iran-backed Shiite militias on the border.

Israel has publicly warned against the accumulation of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces at its border. Iran has arranged for thousands of militiamen from across the region to fight on behalf of Assad’s government and has sent top commanders to direct its own Revolutionary Guards in the country as well.

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