JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Sunday that he welcomed the efforts to achieve a long-term cease-fire in Syria but warned that Israel would continue to defend its own interests there.

Those interests, he said, included preventing the transfer of advanced weaponry from Syria to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization, and blocking any Iranian-backed attacks against Israel from Syrian territory.

“Anything that stops the terrible killing there is important especially from a humanitarian standpoint,” Mr. Netanyahu said in remarks before his weekly cabinet meeting.


“But it must be clear at the same time that any agreement in Syria must include a halt to Iran’s aggression toward Israel from Syrian territory,” he added. “We will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah from Syria and Lebanon. We will not agree to the creation of a second terror front on the Golan Heights. These are the red lines that we have set and they remain the red lines of the State of Israel.”

Israel has repeatedly stated that it does not take sides in the Syrian civil war and has avoided getting involved in the fighting. But over the last few years numerous airstrikes against weapons storehouses in Syria and convoys apparently destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon have been attributed to Israel. Israeli officials have refused to accept responsibility for specific attacks, preferring to maintain ambiguity in part to lower the risk of retaliation. But they have openly warned that Israel would act if its adversaries posed any threat.

Israel has also accused Iran and Hezbollah of trying to establish what it calls a “terrorist infrastructure” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, along Israel’s northern frontier.

An Israeli helicopter strike in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights in January 2015 killed several Hezbollah fighters, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the group’s slain military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, and an Iranian general. Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria to prevent the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, a crucial ally, but the helicopter strike appeared aimed at pre-empting plans for an attack against Israel.

An airstrike on a residential building in Damascus in December killed Samir Kuntar, a Hezbollah commander whom Israel had released from prison in 2008, nearly 30 years after he took part in a notorious attack in northern Israel.

Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out the assault. Before his death, Mr. Kuntar, a Lebanese Druse, had been charged with setting up a Hezbollah-trained militia in the southern province of Swaida, populated mainly by Syrian Druse.

The Israeli lawmaker Yaakov Perry, a former minister and former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic spy agency, said that regarding Syria, “Israel has studied, watched and got involved only in those incidents in which we concluded that there was a certain level of risk to us.”

Speaking to Israel Radio on Sunday, Mr. Perry, of the centrist Yesh Atid party, added, “We are talking about a very fragile cease-fire and there are many terror organizations that would like to drag Israel in, or want to cause it damage.”

Courtesy NY Times