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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Netanyahu warns Iran over Mediterranean military bases

The Israeli prime minister has said his country would not allow Iran to carve a corridor from Tehran to Tartus

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in London to commemorate the 1917 Balfour Document. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in London to commemorate the 1917 Balfour Document. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Iranian attempts to take advantage of the Syrian civil war with the establishment of permanent military bases on the Mediterranean are a red line for Israel that would provoke a direct intervention, Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Friday.

The Israeli prime minister told an audience at Chatham House that his country would not allow Iran to carve a corridor from Tehran to Tartus. The declaration raises the prospect of a dramatic expansion of Israel’s role in the conflict as the focus shifts from crushing Isil. Israeli strikes in Syria so far have been limited to the border regions and suspected Hizbollah weapons shipments.

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A move by Iran to establish airbases, naval ports or other long term structures would invite retaliation. Using the London think tank’s map of the world, he sketched out how Iran, a regime dominated by a militant Islamist cult, was exploiting the collapse of the region’s borders, famously drawn by the diplomats Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Picot after World War One.

“Until now we did not interfere in Syria,” he said. “What we are now talking about now is that as [Isil] contracts, Iran is coming in and wants to move their army from [Iran] to [Syria], it wants an airbase, Shia divisions, a naval base – can you imagine Iranian submarines in our maritime channel.”

“We are not going to let that happen. We don’t issue statements like that lightly, we mean what we say.”

In London to commemorate the 1917 Balfour Document, which set conditions for the establishment of Israel, Mr Netanyahu said the notorious note remained a benchmark for the Middle East. Until the Palestinians accepted that the region would be the homeland for Jewish people, there could not be a settlement between the two parties.

On the narrower issues of land for peace and recognition of a Palestinian state, the long-standing Israeli leader sounded more accommodating. President Donald Trump’s involvement in peace efforts had changed the tone of talks about peace. Asked if a fresh approach could work, he said: “Hope so.”

“What’s being discussed now is an American initiative. Obviously we make our interests and our concerns known to Mr Trump. He’s coming with a sort of refreshing ‘can-do’ thing... they’re trying to think out of the box,” Netanyahu said at London’s Chatham House think-tank.

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Mr Netanyahu has previously expressed doubts about Mr Trump initiative, telling France’s President Emmanuel Macron in July that it would be difficult to move forward quickly because he felt Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may not be able to deliver on commitments he had made.

The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the Israeli occupied West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Most Israelis want all of Jerusalem as their capital and reject a full return to 1967 borderlines as a threat to their security.

At a centennial dinner on Thursday night, Theresa May, the British prime minister, warned that efforts to negotiate a peace deal must intensify.

“Balfour remains unfinished business – as his fundamental vision of peaceful co-existence has not yet been fulfilled,” she said. “And I believe it demands of us today a renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians – and in the interests of us all.”

“Let us be honest with each other: there will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement too.”