Netanyahu: Israel Has No Problem With Assad, but Cease-fire Agreements Must Be Upheld

MOSCOW – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel does not object to Syrian President Bashar Assad reexerting control over the country and stabilizing his regime’s power, but Israel will act to protect its borders against the Syrian military if necessary – as it has in the past.

“We haven’t had a problem with the Assad regime, for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu told reporters before leaving Moscow to return to Israel, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I have set a clear policy that we do not intervene and we have not intervened. This has not changed. What has troubled us is ISIS and Hezbollah and this has not changed. The heart of the matter is preserving our freedom of action against anyone who acts against us. Second, the removal of the Iranians from Syrian territory,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments come hours after Israel’s air force attacked three military positions in Syria in response to a Syrian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace on Wednesday. Israel shot down the drone.  

According to Syrian media reports, Hezbollah positions were hit in the Quneitra province in Syria’s Golan Heights. The attack took place in the village of Khan Arnabeh and in another city in Quneitra, Syrian media reported.

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Netanyahu was in Moscow for two days to meet with Putin – and watch a semi-final match of the World Cup soccer tournament.

On Wednesday, Israeli sources told Haaretz that Russia has been working to push Iran away from Israel’s border with Syria. While Russia is working on this, Israel has avoided intervening and disrupting stabilizing efforts by Assad’s regime as he retakes Syria’s south.

Netanyahu clarified Thursday that the Iranians have not left the region completely but they have moved back a few dozens of kilometers from the Golan border. Israel’s policy, he said, remains the same: Complete withdrawal of Iranian forces – and at the same time, or in return, Israel will interfere with Assad’s efforts to retake the border regions, which is important to the Russians.

Israel’s main goals in dealing with Russia now include removing the missiles aimed at it from Syria, the withdrawal of Iranian forces and the preservation of the 1974 disengagement agreements with Syria on the Golan Heights.

In addition, Israel wants Russia to ensure that Syrians living on the Golan near the border who received humanitarian aid from Israel in recent years will not be harmed. “They do not need to be punished for starving,” said an Israeli official.

Netanyahu made it clear, ahead of the upcoming summit between U.S President Donald Trump and Putin next week in Helsinki, that he is fully coordinated with Washington. “We act with full transparency with the United States.”

As for the criticism of his attending the game, Netanyahu said: “Putin invited me to the games and we decided to meet, and then we moved up the meeting in light of the planned summit with Trump too.”