- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman held a private discussion on the growing threat posed to Tel Aviv from Syria and Iran, hours before a new wave of airstrikes in Damascus that left nine dead and scores wounded.

Details of Tuesday’s telephone conversation between Mr. Mattis and Mr. Liberman reportedly did not touch upon any possible military action Israel planned to take against the pro-regime forces in Syria, which include Iranian-backed militias and paramilitaries linked to the Hezbollah terror group, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The call came weeks after Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Mattis held face-to-face meetings at the Pentagon last month. The Pentagon visit was the third high-level meet between American and Israeli defense leaders in less than a week.

The Defense Department did not issue a readout of Mr. Mattis’ call Tuesday with the Israeli defense chief and Tel Aviv has denied any involvement in the airstrikes targeting a Syrian military facility in Al-Kiswah near the country’s capital, with Tel Aviv refusing to comment on the attack.

“We do not respond to such foreign reports,” and Israeli military spokeswoman told the Post. Regime commanders say the strikes at the Al-Kiswah base did not result in any casualties. However, officials with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say nine were killed in the strike.

The attack came hours after the Trump administration’s landmark decision to withdraw from the Obama-era denuclearization deal with Iran. Mr. Trump scuttled the deal Tuesday, which had been President Obama’s key foreign policy achievement, and moved to reinstate harsh sanctions on Tehran.

The Al-Kiswah attack is the latest in a series of airstrikes against pro-regime forces in Syria.

Last week, foreign missile strikes reportedly targeted an known arms depot and a surface-to-air missile sites manned by the Syrian military’s Brigade 47, near the former rebel stronghold of Aleppo. Roughly 26 Syrian soldiers and Iranian military advisers were killed in the strike with over 60 wounded, according to local reports.

The strikes come amid a flurry of meetings and communications between the Israeli government and the Trump administration over the last several weeks on the growing threat posed by Iranian proxy forces in Syria.

Israeli officials claim Tehran has fostered a 80,000-man strong proxy force, trained and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, inside Syria and is funneling heavy weapons and material to those forces via the so-called “Shia Crecent” — Iran’s long-sought land bridge linking Iran to Lebanon through Syria and northern Iraq.

Those forces could be used to carry out military action against Israel or U.S. forces battling the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with Iran.

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