On July 23rd, a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, part of which was the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, General Valery Gerasimov met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenko in Jerusalem. The meeting was reportedly held after a short notice visit, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation posted a press release on the meeting between the officials. It explains that the meeting included discussions on various aspects of the Middle East agenda focusing on the situation in and around Syria. They also mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process in continuation of the meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Putin in Moscow on July 11th. What was also discussed in detail is the completion of the anti-terrorist operation in southern Syria and the provision of security along the Israeli border, including the implementation of the 1974 Agreement on Separation of Forces. Topics of bilateral relations were also part of the meeting.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released a neutral statement confirming that the situation in Syria and Iran’s role in it were discussed.
As reported by Times of Israel, at the beginning of the meeting Netanyahu expressed his appreciation of the words of Putin and Trump after the Helsinki meeting. Adding that Israel’s relationship with Russia is extraordinarily important and that it is a fact, as can be seen from the meetings between the Israeli Prime Minister and Russian President Vladimir Putin and between their members of staff.
Haaretz reported that the Israeli Prime Minister praised the “the strong position expressed yesterday by President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo against the aggression of the regime in Iran.” He also continued by adding the following in regard to Iran: “Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to entrench militarily in Syria.”
At the same time, multiple rumors appeared in mainstream media claiming that Israel has pressured Russia and has even forced it to make some consequences.
According to these anonymous sources, Netanyahu, as he has done in the past, demanded that all Iranian fighters and their allies leave Syrian soil in the long term, Radio Free Europe reported. He alelgedly insisted on Iran removing all long-range missiles and its air-defense system from the country.
Another alleged Tel Aviv demand is that the border crossings between Syria and Lebanon be closed, as well as those between Syria and Iraq, to prevent the smuggling of Iranian weapons, Times of Israel reported.
An anonymous Israeli official claimed that the Russian representatives proposed the creation of a buffer zone, which would keep the Iranian forces at a minimum of 100km from Syria-Israel border.
The undisclosed Israeli official, cited by Reuters, said that despite Russia seeming “committed” to its offer, Netanyahu rejected it and told Lavrov: “We will not allow the Iranians to establish themselves even 100 kilometers from the border.” According to Reuters, Israel has also rejected an earlier Russian offer to create an 80 km wide buffer zone from the border. Neither of these offers have been confirmed by either side’s officials.
The official, who, according to Israeli media requests anonymity also said: “This was a very important meeting at a significant time, during which we delved into many details, produced maps and shared intelligence, and explained in great detail our policy.” He also claimed that Iran wishes to turn Syria into a second Lebanon in terms of missiles readily available to be shot at Israel. According to him, Israel is adamant on preventing that.
The unnamed official also said that Israel has allegedly shared some hitherto unknown intelligence to Russia, as reported by Times of Israel. There is however no confirmation of any information given by the anonymous official.
One of the highlights of talks between Israel and Russia, as well as US and Russia on the Syrian situation are the repeated demands for Moscow to limit Iranian presence and influence in the country. However, Russia’s efforts are targeted at reducing the severity of the situation between the sides on the battlefield and has taken no steps toward fulfill the request for Iranian withdrawal from Syria.
Iranian leaders have dismissed any US and Israeli demands to leave the country. Their official attitude is that they shall leave only after Assad asks them to do so. Syria, for its part, has been clear on Iran’s counter-terrorism mission in the Arab state, with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad saying the pullout of the Iranian military advisors from the country is not up for discussion, as reported by PressTV.
According to PressTV, Israel has frequently attack military targets inside Syria in an attempt to prop up terrorist groups that are suffering defeats by the Syrian government. Syria intercepts the projectiles and has vowed to strengthen its air power and defenses in the face of Tel Aviv’s aggression, PressTV further claimed.
Russia and Iran have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government throughout the war, which started as a crackdown on protests back in 2011. On July 13th, PressTV reported that Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei once again stated that Iran coordinates its military presence in Syria with Moscow and Damascus.
Early morning July 23rd, before the meeting Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying: “Israel insists that the  Separation of Forces Agreement between it and Syria be honored as it was in the decades before the outbreak of civil war in Syria, and that Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to establish a military presence in Syria.” The two countries have fought two wars over their shared border, in 1967 and 1973, leading to Israel seizure of the Golan Heights in Syria’s Quneitra province. The Israeli occupation has never been recognized internationally.
Netanyahu’s statement Israel is ready to re-launch the Separation of Forces Agreement is a clear indication that Tel Aviv has accepted the fact that the Assad government is restoring control of southern Syria and it cannot prevent this.
Top Photo | Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after their talks at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)
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