A senior Israeli minister on Tuesday expressed Israel’s concerns about Iran’s presence in Syria near the Golan Heights. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister, told Israel’s Army Radio, “Nobody wants to see Russian forces in the area of the Golan Heights, but we definitely don’t want to see Iranian forces near Israel.” Recent reports have indicated that hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops entered Syria early this month. Israel is also faced with the challenge of the newly-expanded Russian presence in Syria, especially in the Latakia region, where in the past the IDF has destroyed several arms convoys that were intended for Hezbollah. On Monday, the IDF fired on two Syrian army positions near Quneitra after errant mortar fire hit the Israeli Golan Heights on Sunday night, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to respond, “We respect Israel’s interests related to the Syrian civil war but we are concerned about its attacks on Syria.”
Russia and Iran are the two biggest supporters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, who has murdered tens of thousands of innocent civilians through systematic starvation, bombardments, and chemical attacks. Both nations are coordinating intelligence with the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. According to Judah Ari Gross of The Times of Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear to Putin during his trip to Moscow last week that while Israel would “maintain its position of noninvolvement in the civil war, it would not allow Hezbollah and other terrorist groups to amass advanced weaponry systems nor would it tolerate attacks against the Golan Heights.”
In the face of Russia’s expanded military footprint in Syria, columnist Shmuel Rosner put his finger on the difficult strategic quandary Israel would confront, asking on Tuesday, “What happens…if Russia decides to equip Hezbollah forces that fight alongside Assad with weapons that Israel would not tolerate? In the past, Israel did not hesitate to attack weapons deliveries to Hezbollah. But it will surely hesitate to attack deliveries from Russia.”
In the latest example of closer ties brought on by the lifting of international sanctions and isolation as part of the nuclear deal, Iran has purchased $21 billion in aircraft and satellite equipment from Russia, the Russian state-owned news website Sputnik reported Saturday.
Manouchehr Manteghi, the managing director of Iran Aviation Industries Organization, did not specify how many Sukhoi Superjet 100s were purchased, but characterized it as a “large share of contracts.” The Superjet is a twin-engine passenger plane.
In the past two months, Russia has promised Iran to help improve its centrifuge technology, sold Iran S-300 advanced surface-to-air missile systems, and held joint naval exercises in the Caspian Sea. Russia has also deployed troops and fighter jets to Syria to prop up the regime of Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad. (via TheTower.org)