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From Damascus, Iran vows to confront Israel

Iranian general highlights military cooperation between Damascus and Tehran in face of 'common enemies'
Syrian Defence Minister Fahd al-Freij, right, meets with the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, Mohammad Baqeri, in Damascus on Wednesday (AFP)

Iran's military chief warned Israel against breaching Syrian airspace and territory on a visit to Damascus on Wednesday, raising tensions with Israel as it voices deep concern over Tehran's influence in Syria.

General Mohammad Baqeri pledged to increase cooperation with Syria's military to fight Israel and militants battling the Syrian government, Iranian and Syrian state media said.

Iranian forces and Iran-backed militias, including Hezbollah, have provided critical military support to Damascus, helping it regain swathes of Syria from rebels and militants.

"It's not acceptable for the zionist regime to violate the land and airspace of Syria anytime it wants," Baqeri said at a news conference with his Syrian counterpart.

"We are in Damascus to assert and cooperate to confront our common enemies, the zionists and terrorists," he said.

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"We drew up the broad lines for this cooperation," Syrian state media cited the Iranian military chief of staff as saying.

Iran's expanding clout during Syria's more than six-year war has raised alarms in Israel, which has said it would act against any threat from its regional arch-enemy Tehran.

Israel's air force says it has struck arms convoys of the Syrian military and Hezbollah almost 100 times during the war.

'Lebanon is game'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Iran was strengthening its foothold in Syria and that Israel would "do whatever it takes" to protect its security.

Tensions have increased this year between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel, which have avoided a major conflict since 2006.

This week, the Israeli military said it attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft battery that had fired at its planes over Lebanon. But the Syrian army said it hit an Israeli warplane after it breached its airspace at the Syria-Lebanon border.

"Our job is to prevent war, and you do that through deterrence. What we saw in Syria fell within this framework," the Israeli defence minister told Israel Radio on Wednesday before the Iranian military chief's comments.

"We will do whatever is necessary for [our] security," Avigdor Lieberman added. "We will not change our operating procedures because of shooting or a threat of this type or another."

Meanwhile, Israel’s right-wing Minister of Education Naftali Bennett warned on Wednesday that Lebanon’s state institutions and infrastructure would not be spared in an Israeli confrontation with Hezbollah, especially if the group is part of the Lebanese government.

“If Lebanon has Hezbollah as part of its government, and it’s harbouring thousands and thousands of missiles in its homes, then Lebanon is game,” Bennett was quoted as saying by Haaretz.

“Its infrastructure, international airport and government facilities – it’s all game. Because if you don’t want that to happen, it doesn’t need to happen. You just dismantle this thing called Hezbollah.”

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