(CNSNews.com) – The weekend breaching of Israel’s airspace by an Iranian drone was a “wake-up call for all of us” and underlines that “Iran and Hezbollah are making plans to stay in Syria,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on Wednesday.
In a hard-hitting statement at a U.N. Security Council meeting, Haley also criticized Russia for not doing more to rein in its partners in Syria – the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah – and preventing violence in agreed-upon de-escalation zones.
“When we see the Assad regime starving civilians in eastern Ghouta or pummeling schools and hospitals in Idlib, we see advisers from Iran and Hezbollah helping direct those atrocities,” she said.
“This support for the Assad regime is not new, of course. But the drone flight this week is a wake-up call for all of us. Iran and Hezbollah are making plans to stay in Syria.”
Haley said that wherever Iran and Hezbollah move in in the Middle East, “instability always follows.”
While the need for peace in Syria was urgent, she said, “we can’t offer support for peace on the one hand, and ignore the fact that the chief sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East and its terrorist militia are digging in.”
The weekend drone incident saw Israel shoot down an Iranian reconnaissance UAV and attack the drone’s command center in Syria; Syrian air defenses bring down an Israeli F-16; and Israel in a second attack wave bomb a dozen Syrian and Iranian installations.
The U.S. backed Israel’s right to take the action it did, but the flare-up fueled existing fears of a further internationalization of the drawn-out and bloody civil war.
Haley in her statement called the drone incursion “an egregious and unprompted escalation.”
“Iran was once again doing what it does – risking conflict and testing the will of its neighbors and opponents to resist its aggression.”
Haley also cited a large-scale attack last week by pro-regime forces on a base of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir-ez-Zor province, which prompted a deadly counterstrike by the U.S.-led coalition.
U.S. forces were in contact with the Russians via a de-confliction hotline during the episode, although it was later learned that Russian nationals, described as military contractors or mercenaries, were among those killed or injured when the coalition struck back at the attacking force. (Russia insists its military was not involved.)
Haley said the attack on the SDF base in Deir-ez-Zor showed the “recklessness of the pro-regime fighters.”
“Parties on the ground need to adhere to all established de-confliction mechanisms, and ensure nothing like this happens ever again,” she said, and took aim at Russia in particular in this regard.
“Russia was supposed to guarantee adherence to these de-escalation zones to help the political process,” she said. “But then again, Russia was also supposed to guarantee that all chemical weapons would be removed from Syria.”
Haley was referring to a 2013 Moscow-brokered agreement for President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his “declared” chemical weapons stockpile. Subsequent chemical attacks blamed on the regime indicate that he held onto some of the deadly agents, despite the purported Russian guarantees.
On efforts to end the conflict in Syria, Haley said if diplomatic initiatives were going to work, Russia, “as one of Assad’s key backers,” would have to pressurize him to change his behavior.
“Russia can push the regime to commit to seeking a real peace in Syria, a peace that helps the Syrian people, a peace that helps ensure the region’s security. Now is the time for Russia to use that leverage.”
Haley’s Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzya, disputed the U.S. version of what happened in Deir-ez-Zor.
“Our assessment differs about the incident which occurred in eastern Syria between coalition forces and the pro-government forces. This was an unprovoked attack,” he told the council, without elaborating.
Speaking briefly to reporters after the meeting, Nebenzya rejected Haley’s assertion that his government is not doing enough.
Russia is always facing demands to deliver, but as of yet, “nobody delivered more than us on the political process in Syria,” he said, pointing to the de-escalation zone agreement, and Russian-led diplomatic initiatives including a recent conference of warring parties, held at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
On fears that the civil war could escalate into a wider regional or global conflict, Nebenzya said Russia was “doing everything to prevent any major international confrontation in Syria. We are working on that, hard, and what we are doing in the context of the political process is a part of it.”