Israel’s military chief of staff warned that some of the rebel forces trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad may soon turn their attention southward and attack Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights.
“We see terror organizations that are increasingly gaining footholds in the territory and they are fighting against Assad,” Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said today at a conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. “Guess what? We’ll be next in line.”
Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule in Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The U.S. and its allies have sought ways to support Syria’s opposition without allowing arms to reach the hands of rebel groups associated with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
Israel captured the Golan plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and the Israeli population in 32 settlements built in the occupied territory numbers about 20,000, according to government census records. Shells from rebel forces landed in two settlements over the past two weeks without causing significant damage, the Israeli army says.
The Herzliya Conference is an annual meeting on security and economic issues attended by policy makers, business executives and academics. While Gantz spoke last year about the need to prepare for striking Iran if economic sanctions fail to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, he chose to skip the subject this time.
Iran “is on my mind every day and every week, but that is not what I want to talk about today,” he said.
The conference comes a week before President Barack Obama visits Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Iran will be the top issue of discussion, followed by Syria and renewing peace efforts with the Palestinians.