Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s focus in last week’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was concerns over Iranian forces in Syria, and he may have achieved a breakthrough. The Israeli leader on Sunday said that Putin and he “agreed on a common goal—the withdrawal of foreign forces that arrived in Syria after the outbreak of the civil war.”
Based on Netanyahu’s comments, which were published by his office, that could mean that Moscow has concurred with Israel that Iranian base-building for a permanent presence in Syria is not acceptable. And Netanyahu and Putin even have a concrete plan for clearing Syria of these foreign forces: “We agreed to establish a joint team to advance this goal, together with other elements.” Russia is a key ally of Iran and may have diplomatic tools for influencing Tehran.
This is a tricky plan, since Russian foreign forces have also moved into Syria during the fighting there, but Israel’s main concerns are about Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, not Moscow. If Russia follows through on this promise to help nudge out those forces, this would be a key victory for Israeli diplomacy. Israel has already attacked the Iranian presence in Syria in an effort to prevent them from becoming entrenched in the country and thereby move the Iranian military to Israel’s northern border. Israel has also bombed weapons in Syria to prevent them from being transferred to the Hezbollah terrorist group, which is also an Iranian proxy.
Israel and Russia have had a rocky relationship as of late, following accusations from Moscow that the behavior of the Israeli air force in Syria resulted in a Russian plane being shot down by Syrian air defenses according to a report at the time by Sputnik International. Israel denied the claims and Netanyahu endorsed the Israeli investigations showing their innocence in a call with Putin, who at the time did not appear to be appeased. However, the public comments last week from the meeting between Putin and Netanyahu were devoid of any direct mention of the tragedy and it appears the countries may have moved forward past the incident. Putin even has plans to visit Jerusalem now.
“We agreed on the continuation of the security coordination mechanism between the Russian military and the IDF [in Syria]” said Netanyahu on Sunday of his talk with Putin. “…I invited President Putin to be the guest of honor at the dedication of the memorial to those who fell in the siege of Leningrad and he accepted my invitation. It is no small thing that we have such strong, good and close links with leaders of the major powers in the world. These links serve the security of Israel.”
Despite the tense relations, Netanyahu made it clear before the meeting that Israel was not backing down on their determination—with military means as needed—to prevent Iran from turning Syria into a new forward base. He made that clear during the meeting with Putin as well.
Said Netanyahu on Sunday, “As I promised, the focus of our discussions was the Iranian issue. I made it unequivocally clear that Israel will not allow the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria, and I also made it unequivocally clear that we would continue to take military action against it.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 3, 2019)