TEL AVIV – There are 10 Iranian military bases in Syria, two of which are close to the border with Israel, that are training militias from the Bashar al-Assad regime for a future war with the Jewish state, an analyst for an American think tank contended in an article published Monday.
As many as 20,000 fighters in Syria have been trained by Iranian military personnel, giving Iran its “true muscle” in Syria, according to the Monday report in the New York Times. About 6,000 of them are Hezbollah members, with the rest coming from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. Most of them view the conflict in religious terms, the report said.
For years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Iran is seeking regional hegemony by entrenching itself in Syria, from where it can arm its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah and train other Shiite militias to fight against Israel.
In November, Israel released satellite photos of an Iranian military base only 30 miles from the border with Syria.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the presence of any military bases in the war-torn country.
At least two Iraqi militia leaders have visited the Lebanon-Israel border with Hezbollah recently, the Times said, with militia members saying the visits were intended to formulate plans for how they might collaborate in a future conflict.
The combatants have switched their focus from the Sunni Islamic State terror group to Israel, Ali Alfoneh, a researcher at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council told the Times.
“Iran has realized that it is actually possible to maintain a front against Israel where there is no war, but also no peace,” Alfoneh said.
Last week, in response to an incursion by an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel launched airstrikes on 12 Syrian and Iranian targets, including three air-defense batteries and four Iranian targets, one of them the control center that launched the drone.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck” and added that his country would do everything to defend itself.
“We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself,” the prime minister said at the Munich Security Conference, which was also attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
He also brandished a fragment of the downed Iranian drone and asked, “Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!”
Zarif later responded on the same stage, calling Netanyahu’s fiery speech a “cartoonish circus.”