Jerusalem Responds to Russia: Iranian Aggression Is Destabilizing Syria – Not Israel

Israel responded to Russia’s claim that its alleged attack in Syria "only worsened" the situation there. "What is destabilizing Syria is the Iranian aggression and attempts by Iran to set up a military presence in Syria to threaten Israel and other nations," a senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem said Thursday.

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that a strike on a Syrian airbase carried out by Israel has only "worsened stability" in the war-torn country. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday, when the Russian leader urged Israel not to take action in Syria and to threaten its security. Israeli officials confirmed the call took place and said that Netanyahu told Putin that Israel will not permit Iran to set up a military presence in Syria.

Moments after the Russian foreign ministry issued the statement, a Russian lawmaker announced that Russian ships have left the Tartus naval base in Syria. Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Shamanov, who chairs the Russian defense committee of the lower house of parliament, as saying that the vessels had left the Mediterranean base for their own safety, adding that "this is normal practice" when there are threats of an attack.

FILE – This Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. In comments published oMikhail Klimentyev/AP

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Putin has also reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the situation in Syria by phone Thursday afternoon.

Later Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress that Russia was complicit in Syria’s retention of chemical weapons.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France has proof the Syrian government was behind the suspected chemical attack last week in Douma, but added that he would decide whether to intervene once all the necessary information had been gathered.

"We have proof that last week… chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad," Macron said during a television interview.

Macron said French and U.S. officials were "working together very closely, and we will have decisions to take, at the time we choose, when we consider it most useful and most effective."

‘Don’t test Israel’

Also Wednesday, following the call, Netanyahu threatened Iran in a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. "I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve," he declared.

"To the Iranian people, he said: "The regime is oppressing you and when this regime disappears off the face of the earth then our two peoples can live together once more in coexistence," he said.

>> This is not a drill: Syria showdown could spark Israeli-Iranian and U.S.-Russian clashes ■ Revenge by Iran could push Israel to terminate its Syrian presence

Netanyahu also took the opportunity to condemn the Syrian regime and the recent chemical attack in Syria, saying that "murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly."

Israel is on high alert for any Iranian retaliation after Tehran’s direct threat Tuesday, as well as any possible U.S. strike against Syria’s Assad regime in retaliation to the chemical attack at Douma.  

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted early Thursday morning that the U.S. attack on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all.”

Trump wrote on Twitter, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”

Trump appears to be closer to taking action in Syria after Saturday’s deadly chemical attack, for which he vowed "animal Assad" would "pay a heavy price."

An earlier tweet by Trump Wednesday said: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

>> Israel on high alert, prepares for possible Iranian retaliation after strike on Syrian base ■ Revealed: The Iranian compound targeted by the ‘Israeli strike’ in Syria

The American president followed that tweet with an assessment of U.S.-Russia relations, writing, "Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"