The Cabinet, according to a report on Channel 10, was asked to discuss a scenario envisioning an Iranian attempt to establish a foothold in Syria.
At present, the working assumption is that Syrian President Bashar Assad is not allowing Tehran to establish a permanent base on his territory—including an airport, sea port surface-to-surface missile depots.
Assad has likely also refused to allow the Islamic Republic to deploy Iranian anti-aircraft missile batteries in Syria and rejected an offer by the Iranian Chief of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, to that end.
Bagheri raised the possibility during a recent visit to Damascus in light of Russian opposition to a permanent Iranian presence in Tartus, the second largest port city in Syria.
Among other things, Bagheri floated the idea of establishing an array of military industries on Syrian soil, as well as an intelligence base, an air base and a naval base, and deploying surface-to-surface missiles such as those that were deployed with the help of Hezbollah in Yemen for the Houthi rebels.
However, is may be surmised that Assad has rejected the move out of fear that to do so would give Israel pretext to launch a military campaign in Syria, thereby jeopardizing all his accomplishments of recapturing control over his territory, which have been facilitated by Moscow during the violent civil war.
The security apparatus in Israel views the threat in Lebanon at its most severe yet, but recently Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Syria and Lebanon are part and parcel of the same northern front.
“In any development that takes place, it will be one area—Syria and Lebanon together, Hezbollah, the Assad regime and all collaborators of the Assad regime. Regarding the Lebanese region, we’re no longer talking solely about Hezbollah,” Lieberman said in October, describing what he dubbed the “New Middle East.”
Speaking in an interview with Ynet on Monday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was asked about the Cabinet discussion and about the concern lingering over the northern frontier.
“I won’t comment on the discussions in the Cabinet meetings and won’t say what the subject was,” Steinitz succinctly stated.
“There are a lot of matters discussed in the Cabinet, but it is no secret that we are concerned. The prime minister has expressed this concern about the efforts Iran is undertaking to establish military presence in Syria, and with his leadership we are taking diplomatic steps and also intelligence and security steps in order to prevent Syria becoming a military front for Iran,” he continued. “It is a process that will take a few years, and it will happen, but we are determined to prevent it.”
In response to the question how Israel is preparing for the “day after,” Steinitz said that Israel was “ preparing for the day before.”
“We don’t want to see an Iranian naval and air base in Syria, a base for Iranian rockets, for divisions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” he said, repeating the red lines that have been expressed on numerous occasions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We are determined to prevent all of these things. We won’t allow the brutal civil war in Syria to be exploited by Iran in order to turn Syria into a military base for Iran against the State of Israel.”