Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad ruled out retaliating against Israel on Monday after Israel conducted air strikes on Syrian territory, saying that fighting rebel forces in the country takes precedence.
Israel carried out a number of air strikes in Syria last week in response to rocket fire on Israeli positions in the bordering Golan Heights region, which has been largely occupied by Israel since 1967.
In an interview with the Al Manar television channel, Assad said that the actions opposition groups fighting to topple his regime “are more dangerous than what Israel did recently to support them.”
“If we want to deal with Israel we must first deal with the tools that it uses in Syria,” he told the Hezbollah-linked channel.
Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group based in neighbouring Lebanon, has been actively involved in the Syrian civil war that started in 2011 in the form of a popular uprising against the Assad regime.
Under the tutelage of commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah has been helping Syrian regime forces battle against rebel groups in the Golan Heights region.
However, the presence of Hezbollah fighters so close to Israel’s borders makes the Israelis uneasy, considering that Hezbollah and Israel fought a brief war in Lebanon in 2006.
According to an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) an officer cited in Israeli news website Arutz Sheva, the air strikes on Syria last week targeted a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The rocket fire on Israeli positions from Syria came from a territory controlled by the Assad regime and was blamed on a cell belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group, which Israel accuses of being armed and funded by Iran.
Following the incident, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon pointed the finger at the Assad regime, which he said “allows terrorist activity against Israel."
The latest incident was not the first time the IDF launched strikes on Syrian lands during the country’s civil war. In January, an airstrike on the Syrian Golan Heights killed the top Hezbollah commander Abu Ali Tabatabai, along with Mohammad Ali Allahdadi - an Iranian general - and 10 others.
Among those 10 were Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh - a senior Hezbollah commander killed by Israel in Damascus in 2008 - and Mohammed Issa, who was responsible for the organisation’s operations in Syria and Iraq.
Previously, Israel targeted the same area, when it believed a shipment of advanced weaponry was being delivered from Iran to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah later responded with an attack which killed two IDF soldiers officers.