JERUSALEM, Israel. - Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman Friday called on President Bashar Assad to “get rid” of Iranian forces in Syria, warning their continued presence would only cause trouble.
Iran, meanwhile, in its first official reaction to the Israeli attacks on suspected Iranian targets in Syria, said Damascus has the legitimate right to respond to what it said were repeated violations of the country’s sovereignty “under fabricated and baseless excuses.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Braham Ghasemi added that the international silence in the face of such “aggressive moves” is in effect a “green light” to more such attacks.
A hard-line Iranian cleric threatened Iran would retaliate if Israel “does anything foolish.”
Israel attacked dozens of suspected Iranian targets in Syria in overnight strikes this week that it said were in response to an Iranian rocket barrage. It was the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date. The cross-border exchange gave way to a war of words.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called late Thursday for an immediate halt to “all hostile acts” to avoid “a new conflagration” in the Middle East.
Guterres’ comments came as a calm night followed intense attacks on parts of Syria by Israel. Israel has called on the UN Security Council and secretary-general to condemn Iran’s attack on its positions in the Golan Heights, occupied and annexed by Israel.
The Security Council, deeply divided over Syria, is highly unlikely to issue a statement and as of Friday morning no council member had asked for a meeting.
Speaking while touring the Israeli side of the occupied Golan Heights, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel is not looking for friction. “We did not come to the Iranian border, they came here,” he said.
Iran has advisers and experts and has backed tens of thousands of militiamen who are fighting alongside Assad forces in the civil war. Israel has warned it will not tolerate its archenemy Iran establishing a military presence on its doorstep.
“I will take this opportunity to send a message to Assad: Get rid of the Iranians, get rid of Qasem Soleimani, and the Quds Force, they are not helping you, they only cause damage, and their presence will only cause problems and damages” Lieberman said. Soleimani is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds expeditionary force which is fighting in both Iraq and Syria.
“Get rid of the Iranians and maybe it will be possible to have a different kind of life,” Lieberman added.