Some top Israeli officials appear to be embracing the idea of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s impeding victory over rebel forces in southwest Syria, predicting that it will return stability to the area after more than seven years of war.
Assad’s forces have more or less regained full control over all rebel-held territory in southwest Syria, including the border areas along the disputed Golan Heights that have been a refuge for the Islamic State and other jihadi groups.
Although Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights is a sore subject between Jerusalem and Damascus, Assad’s control of nearby territory is a welcome alternative to the anarchy that has prevailed there throughout the Syrian war, according to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” he told reporters Thursday, according to Reuters.
Lieberman went on to say that, with Assad in power, Israel would not have to be as concerned about military confrontation with Syria over control of the Golan.
“I believe so,” he said. “I think this is also in Assad’s interest.”
Shortly after Lieberman’s remarks, the Israeli military announced it had killed seven suspected Islamic State-affiliated militants operating in the Golan border area. Israel’s air force targeted the militants after they crossed into Israeli territory and approached a security fence late Wednesday, spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.
“It did not seem as if they were seeking refuge … they were moving in a combat formation with combat equipment,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Also Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, reported continuing clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS fighters in the Golan area. ISIS remains a lethal force in southern Syria, as it displayed to horrific effect with a massacre of hundreds of Syrian civilians in and around the city of Sweida on June 25. (RELATED: ISIS Goes On Bombing Spree Throughout Syria, Killing Hundreds)
Although Israel has warmed to the prospect of Assad regaining control of the Golan border area, it remains wary about the presence of Iranian militia near its borders, something it views as an intolerable security threat. Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting with Assad’s troops have been instrumental in defeating rebel and jihadi groups in southwest Syria.
Lieberman repeated Thursday Israel’s demand that Assad not allow Iran to build military bases in Syria or smuggle weapons through Syrian territory to Hezbollah militants in neighboring Lebanon.
“We are not looking for friction, but we will know how to respond to any provocation and any challenge,” he said, according to Reuters.
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