Iran’s potential role in enforcing the Russian-proposed de-escalation zones in southern Syria has raised concerns for Israel, General Joseph Dunford, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman said on Tuesday during his visit to the country.
Dunford, who was in Israel on his third official visit this week told reporters traveling with him that he discussed issues of mutual concerns in the region with Israeli military officials, including Iran’s influence in the region, Hezbollah’s presence in southern Syria and the presence of the Islamic State group in the tri-border area of Israel, Syria and Jordan.
While Jerusalem is pleased with the progress being made in the fight against ISIS, Israel is concerned of the role that Iran would play in the region and Syria “the day ISIS is defeated.”
“Clearly, the major concern is Iran’s influence in the region — their malign activities in the region, what’s happening with Iran in Iraq and Iran in Syria,” the top US general said according to Department of Defense news.
“The greatest challenge from Iran is the Iranian threat network,” which includes the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and the support they provide for the Hezbollah, Dunford said, adding that should the Lebanese Shi’ite terror group attack, Israel “would have two fronts to deal with.”
An agreement on “de-escalation zones” and safe zones in several large areas of western and southern Syria, including along the Israeli-Syrian border near the Golan Heights, were signed last week in Astana by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
“To be clear, the Russians proposed these deconfliction zones in Astana,” Dunford said, and while Moscow would like the United States to be a part, no decision has yet been made.
“What we are doing now is prudently talking to military planners, and in our conversations with the Israelis we are asking about the proposal and what it would look like on the ground,” Dunford said, adding that “it is fair to say that the Israelis would want to make sure that their security concerns are addressed.”
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who returned on Thursday from a work visit to the US where he met with government officials as well as senior intelligence officials, also warned on Thursday against Iran and Hezbollah’s growth in Syria and in southern Syria in particular.
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Katz also warned against the creation of a territorial continuum from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon and explained that an Iranian military presence in Syria and Lebanon would obligate Israel to allocate a significant amount of resources to enhance its preparedness in the Golan Heights and in the Galilee.
The minister urged the Americans to impose additional sanctions on both Iran and Hezbollah, who is creating their own weapons with the aid they receive from Tehran, in order to weaken the terror group and prevent a situation in which Israel would have to attack Lebanon should the group decide to attack Israel.
The strategic importance of the Golan and the Iranian presence there has Israel concerned, and Jerusalem has reportedly carried out dozens of strikes inside Syria against senior Iranian commanders as well as Hezbollah convoys to prevent the group from obtaining advanced weaponry.
Hezbollah is one of the most prominent terror organizations in the world, and while the group has become bogged down fighting in Syria for President Bashar Assad, they have gained immeasurable fighting experience, as well as new advanced weaponry such as Soviet-made T-72 tanks, Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles, armored personnel carriers, rapid response motorcycles and KS-12A anti-aircraft weapons.
While the terror group may currently be using 40 year old tanks, a senior officer in the IDF’s armoured corps recently voiced concern that as Hezbollah is becoming much stronger and that Israel is worried that the terror group might get its hands on more advanced tanks in the future.
In November Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem was quoted by Lebanese Daily Al Safir as saying that Hezbollah “now has a heavily armed and well-trained army and the resistance does not need to rely on guerilla tactics.” While the group officially denied Qassem’s remarks, according to Dunford the group “now fields a conventional force armed with missiles, rockets, artillery, armored vehicles and tanks.”