Reports of a series of cargo flights from Iran to Syria, which U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials suspect may be transporting weapons to the Assad regime and Iranian-backed militias operating in the war-torn-country, have raised concerns in both Jerusalem and Washington of Iranian efforts to prepare for a direct confrontation with Israel. While arms transfers between Iran and Syria are not unusual, American intelligence is reportedly monitoring several flights of both Syrian and Iranian cargo planes that have caught their attention, in light of Tehran’s threats to retaliate for an alleged Israeli attack on Syria’s T-4 airbase, which claimed the lives of seven Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guards’ drone unit. With both Israeli and American intelligence officials indicating to TV7 close cooperation between Jerusalem and Washington on efforts to thwart Tehran’s influence in the Middle East; the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to bolster forces loyal to Damascus and Shi’ite militias devoted to Tehran’s directives unhindered. At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Israel’s ambassador Danny Danon accused the Islamic Republic of operating military training bases close to Damascus, from where Tehran’s Shi’ite militias, which the Israeli diplomat claimed numbered over 80,000 militants, are trained. “We are presenting this image to the world so you can understand the depths of Iran’s involvement in Syria. What you can see here is Iran’s central induction and recruitment center in Syria. There are over 80,000 Shia militants in Syria under Iranian control. It is at this base, just over five miles from Damascus, where they are trained to commit acts of terror in Syria and across the region,” Danny Dannon, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N said.
In response, Iran’s first counsellor to the world body “categorically rejected the Israeli allegations as baseless and a sheer fabrication,” while emphasizing that Iran’s military presence in Syria came at the request of the Syrian government, which deems the Islamic Republic’s presence in the war-torn-country legal and legitimate. “Iran advisory persons in Syria is at the request of the Syrian government and legitimate — to assist the Syrian government, to fight and ultimately eliminate all terrorist groups, especially Daesh and other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with them and restoring the unity of their country and in achieving a political solution. We categorically reject the Israeli allegations as baseless and sheer fabrication,” Javad Safaei, Iran’s first counsellor to the U.N. said.
The U.N. Security Council meeting came as Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived in Washington for a scheduled meeting with his American Counterpart, Secretary of Defense James Mattis. During the meeting, the American top defense official responded to a reporter’s question about Israel’s assessment regarding the aim of Iran’s arms shipments. “Reporter: “Do you agree with the Israeli assessment that the weapon shipments from Iran to Syria are for the purpose of striking Israel?”
Mattis: “I can’t think of any other purpose for them, right now.”
Secretary Mattis also took the opportunity to refer to the announcement by Russia of its intention to deliver the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria, warning Moscow that its decision would be a “tragedy” for efforts to establish peace in the war-torn-country.
Ahead of the meeting between Lieberman and Mattis, the London-based only Saudi newspaper Elaf released an interview with the Israeli Defense Minister, who warned the Islamic Republic that if it would attack Tel Aviv, Israeli will attack Tehran “and destroy every Iranian military outpost in Syria threatening Israel.” While Minister Lieberman emphasized that Israel does not seek war with anyone, it will not tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria, “whatever the cost may be.” Lieberman further clarified his threat, underlining that “Every military outpost in Syria in which Iran seems to be trying to dig in militarily, we will destroy,” while noting that ongoing talks with Moscow would prevent any accidental clashes between Israeli and Russian forces.