By Safvan Allahverdi
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated Friday that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a foothold in Syria that would pose a threat to his country.
"What our problem is and what we will not allow is for Iranians to establish a base in Syria against Israel," Lieberman said during his speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, adding Israel does not pursue a policy of being involved in the Syria crisis.
“Smuggling drugs or having some business -- even if they own it in the capacity of advisors -- is another story. But to establish a military base is another matter.
"An Arab base or navy hub or some base for their ground operations we will not allow. I think it’s also this position that we explain to everybody in the world. We have a political will and determination to protect ourselves."
In response to a question on whether Israel would attack Iran in the case of a threat, he noted that Israel would not hesitate and would destroy all Iranian military posts that threaten Israel from Syria.
"Israel does not want war…but if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, Israel will also hit Tehran,” he added, saying he hopes Iranians would be smart enough not to provoke Israel and trigger a new conflict.
Turning to Russia’s presence in Syria, Liberman said Israel does not agree with Russia's Syrian strategy but respects Moscow's priorities and interests in the region.
He said Russia does not hate Israel and is not trying to destroy it, unlike the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which wants to eliminate Israel from the Middle East.
On Monday, the Israeli army said it had responded to a mortar shell fired from Syria that struck the occupied Golan Heights.
The Israeli military held the Syrian regime accountable for the attack and said it will not tolerate any attempt to breach Israeli sovereignty or endanger civilians.
Israel has occupied most of the Syrian Golan Heights since the 1967 Middle East War.
Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.