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Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

A member of Syrian pro-government forces stands next to a tank in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor during an operation against Islamic State group jihadists on November 4, 2017
STRINGER (AFP/File)
Israel has long accused Iran, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria's civil war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled Monday that Israel would take military action in Syria when it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.

Israel has long accused Iran, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria's civil war to send its Revolutionary Guard and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah into southern Syria, close to the border with the Jewish state.

It has sought to avoid being dragged into the fighting but has carried out dozens of air strikes to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, which fights alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Israel was reportedly seeking a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some 50 kilometers (30 miles), but an agreement reached last week between the United States, Russia and Jordan fell short of that demand, Israeli media said.

JACK GUEZ (AFP/File)

"I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria -- including in southern Syria -- according to our understanding and according to our security needs," Netanyahu told senior members of his Likud party, according to a party statement.

"This is what is happening and this is what will continue to happen."

The November 8 agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia seeks to build on a ceasefire already in place in southwestern Syria.

On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.

"We will not allow the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria" as a base for operations against Israel, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement after the incident.

'Shoulder to shoulder' 

Speaking later Monday in parliament, Netanyahu said some of Israel's Arab neighbours shared its concerns.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, in the face of radical Islam, no matter where it comes from, be it Iran, the Islamic State group or elsewhere," he said, without naming the countries.

"I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace," he added.

Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia has long been at loggerheads with Shiite, non-Arab Iran but friction has been growing lately as Tehran has backed Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of "direct military aggression" against the kingdom by supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.

The kingdom says one was fired toward Riyadh from Yemen on November 4 but brought down by its air defenses.

Jack GUEZ (AFP)

Iran denied any involvement.

"Iran knows very well, and everyone else should be aware, that we shall not agree to nor accept its military deployment in Syria," Netanyahu told parliament.

In September, Israel's military shot down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by arch-foe Hezbollah on a similar mission.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

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Iran the new colonialist & occupier.

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