US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on Thursday he agrees that Iran has upped weapons shipments to Syria with the aim of preparing an attack on Israel, as he met his Israeli counterpart in Washington DC.
The two leaders hailed the strong relations between their two states since the inception of Israel, Mattis pointing to “Cobra” joint military exercises as a testament to their strength in the “face of an Iran intent on spreading its malign influence across the region.”
“But as we mark the 70th anniversary of your independence, and just also, 70 years of diplomatic relations between our two nations, and the strength of that bond between the U.S. and Israel is always clear,” Mattis reaffirmed.
Liberman’s trip to the White House comes as Israel and Iran continue to exchange threats about Tehran’s military expansion in Syria and as the future of the 2015 nuclear deal hangs in the balance.
Asked by a reporter if he agrees that “weapons shipments from Iran to Syria are for the purpose of striking Israel?” Mattis replied: “I can’t think of any other purpose for them right now.”
White House officials said that the US has stepped up its surveillance efforts via satellites, drones and ships to track the transition of Iranian anti-air and ballistic missiles into Syria amid concerns of a possible attack on Israel in coming days, CNN reported late Thursday.
Last week an Israeli security source said that the country was closely monitoring the air bridge between Tehran and Damascus, which was widely interpreted as a warning that such aircraft or their ports of call are potential targets for Israeli attacks.
Liberman said to Matthis that he hoped to “translate our meeting to some very, very concrete, tangible steps on the ground,” referring to the “Iranian strife, as their efforts to undermine stability in every country — in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, and of course, their nuclear ambitions.”
Earlier in the day, Israel’s defense minister met with freshly minted National Security Adviser John Bolton and other top White House aides at the outset of a three-day visit.
On Wednesday CNN reported that US intelligence agencies are also worried about what exactly Iran is stuffing into the bellies of the jets. The officials said they were alarmed by an uptick in flights since an alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian air base in Syria on April 8.
Analysis of flight tracking data by i24NEWS shows that several trips have been made since the alleged Israeli strike, although they were only a handful among dozens in the first quarter of 2018.
In an interview with a Saudi newspaper at the start of his visit, Liberman wanred that “These are the final days of the Iranian regime.”
“Israel doesn’t want war…but if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, we will hit Tehran,” he was quoted as saying. “Every outpost in which we see Iran positioning militarily in Syria, we will destroy, and we will not allow this no matter what the price,” he added.
Mattis was more muted about swirling reports that Russia is set to sell the S300 missile system to the Syrian government, a move that could considerably enhance the regime’s ability to counter Israeli strikes.
“I think anything that’s done to continue this fighting in Syria is actually a tragedy,” Mattis responded to a question on the sale.
“We need to all get behind the Geneva convention — the Geneva process to come to a diplomatic solution to this. Steffan de Mistura has been trying, and Russia needs to help him if they want to see a way forward to a more stable Middle East.”
A Pentagon spokesman also appeared to play down concerns about the system, which would require time and technical know-how before it could be put into action in Syria.
“The responsible thing for Russia to do is avoid any action which escalates tension and may prolong the civil conflict, including delivery of missile-defense systems to Syria,” the spokesman said.
“These statements are just another example of Russia trying to distract attention from the regime-caused carnage in western Syria and their refusal to restrain Assad.”
Also on Thursday, Former CIA director Mike Pompeo was sworn in as the new secretary of state, commencing his office with a trip to allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, after an EU stopover in Brussels.
Source » i24news