Washington has sought to calm Israeli concerns that Iran will take advantage of a Syrian ceasefire to cement its presence along Israel’s northern border, assuring Jerusalem that it will maintain its activities in the country until a permanent solution is reached, Channel 10 reported Saturday.
“We’ve made it clear to Israel that we are not pulling out of Syria, we are staying there until the end of the civil war,” an unnamed administration official told the Israeli TV station.
“The ceasefire agreement is the first stage. We will try to widen the buffer zone and push the Iranians back, 20 kilometers (12 miles) at first, and later perhaps as far as Damascus.”
Israel has expressed ongoing concern over the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t tolerate.
Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran seeks to carve out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.
On Friday night Arab media reports said Israel fired missiles at a military base Iran has been building near the Syrian city of al-Qiswa, southwest of Damascus.
The alleged Israeli attack came three weeks after the BBC reported that Iran was building a permanent military base in Syria just south of Damascus. The British broadcaster commissioned a series of satellite pictures that showed widespread construction at the site.
Arab media outlets have reported that 12 Iranian troops were killed in the attack.