Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Sunday accused the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of conspiring with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
“It’s very clear. Because whenever we make advances in some place, they attack in order to undermine the army. It’s very clear,” Assad told the American Foreign Affairs magazine in excerpts of an interview that will be published in full on Monday.
“That’s why some in Syria joke, how can you say that Al-Qaeda doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force,” he added.
“We made some advances in the past two years,” Assad said in the interview, referring to the ongoing civil war in his country.
“But if you want to ask me, ‘Is it going well?’, I say that every war is bad, because you always lose, you always have destruction in a war. The main question is what have we won in this war? What we won in this war is that the Syrian people have rejected the terrorists, the Syrian people support their government more, the Syrian people support their army more,” he continued, using the word “terrorists” to describe the rebels trying to remove him from office.
Assad’s comments come a week after an Israeli airstrike on Syria killed an Iranian general as well as six Hezbollah terrorists, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the head of Hezbollah’s Golan Heights operations.
Following the airstrike, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah threatened Israel with retaliation -- but noted that it would be limited.
"The attack on six Hezbollah members will be answered with a painful and unexpected response, but it can be assumed that it will be controlled so as not to drag into a wide-spread war," Hezbollah sources were quoted as saying in their affiliated Lebanese newspaper As-Safir.
This is not the first time that Assad has accused Israel of collaborating with the rebels. Last year, Assad’s political and media adviser claimed that Israel was sending fighters to help the rebels fighting to oust the Syrian president.
Assad himself told an Argentinean newspaper a few months earlier that Israel is assisting the rebels fighting to topple his regime.
“Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways,” he claimed. “Firstly it gives them logistical support, and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them."
The Syrian opposition, however, has claimed that Israel was collaborating with Iran and Hezbollah to keep Assad in power.
Israeli leaders have made clear several times that Israel is not involved or taking sides in the Syrian civil war, but will act to defend itself as needed.