TEL AVIV, Israel ― Meeting on Thursday in Washington with top U.S. security officials, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s new Iran strategy, urged continued U.S. leadership in countering threats from Tehran and vowed that Israel would never permit the Islamic Republic to establish a permanent presence in Syria once U.S.-led coalition operations against the Islamic State group are concluded.
Liberman’s meetings with national security adviser H.R. McMaster at the White House and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon come less than a week after the White House unveiled a holistic strategy to “neutralize and counter” all Iranian threats ― and not just the nuclear threat on which the Trump administration claims the Obama administration had been “myopically” focused.
The Israeli defense minister warned that Iran aspires to deploy “tens of thousands of Shiite militia fighters” at air and naval bases in Syria once the U.S.-led coalition concludes its mission against ISIS, and vowed that Israel would do “everything that is appropriate to defend our interests, in accordance with our red lines, with persistence and good judgment.”
According to a readout from his office, Liberman told both officials: “The Western world led by the United States faces heavy challenges in the Middle East, first of which are the dangerous attempts by Iran to expand in the region in general and Syria in particular.
“Iran is the world’s largest and most dangerous exporter of terrorism, and its Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is the biggest and most dangerous terror organization in the world.”
He praised the administration’s new Iran strategy, unveiled by the White House last week, and asked Mattis to convey appreciation to Trump for his “courageous and moral speech” outlining the full spectrum of threats highlighted in the public address.
Relations between Iran and the U.S. have degraded most recently, but only partly, over the Trump administration’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal. Here is the latest war of words between the two nations:
• Iran points at US and warns of a new nuclear arms race
• Iran warns of tough response if Trump scuttles nuclear deal
• Trump's speech sparks a new war of words between US, Iran
• Trump to stay in Iran nuclear deal, asks Congress to revise enforcement
Liberman’s Oct. 19 meetings in Washington follow a visit to Israel earlier in the week by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Just hours before Liberman received Shoigu at the Israeli Defense Ministry on Oct. 16, Israel attacked the radar of a Syrian SA-5 battery that had targeted ― but did not manage to harm ― Israeli fighters flying on what the Israeli military spokesman called “a routine reconnaissance mission” over Lebanon.
And prior to Liberman’s Oct. 19 meetings with Mattis and McMaster, Israel once again struck a target in Syria, this time a site from which a Syrian-launched mortar ― apparently fired as part of ongoing clashes between government and rebel forces ― landed on Israel’s side of its annexed Golan Heights border.
According to the readout, Liberman said Israel would respond to any violation of its sovereignty. “We see the regime of [Syrian leader Bashar Assad] responsible for anything that happens in its territory, and I suggest he not test our tolerance and our red lines.”