Russia looking to open communication channels between Israel and Iran

Russian ambassador hinted at need for Jerusalem, Tehran dialogue in recent interview with ‘Post’.

People watch S-300 air defense missile systems launching missiles during the Keys to the Sky competition at the International Army Games 2017 at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia, August 5, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV)
People watch S-300 air defense missile systems launching missiles during the Keys to the Sky competition at the International Army Games 2017 at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia, August 5, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV)
Russia is working to “open communication channels” between Israel and Iran, a Russia source was quoted Saturday as saying in the London-based Pan-Arab Ashraq Al-Awsat newspaper.
According to the source, Moscow launched “calm efforts to open communication channels between Tel Aviv and Tehran with an aim to lower tension and prevent a possible confrontation between the two sides in Syria,” particularly after the recent delivery of S-300 long range surface-to-air missile system to Damascus.
The paper stated that the source did not rule out a role for Russia as a “mediator” between the two countries.
But Russia’s apparent interest in a mediating role predated the crisis triggered by the Syrian downing of a Russian intelligence plane, an incident Moscow blamed on Israel and – as a result – delivered the missile defense system to Syria.
Russia’s Ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, broadly hinted at Russian efforts to open some kind of dialogue between Israel and Iran during an interview with The Jerusalem Post in September, just before the downing of the Russian plane.
Asked if he thought Israel was overreacting to the Iranian threat in the region, Viktorov said: “I wouldn’t say overreacted, but I think all the issues should be resolved through a political and diplomatic means.”
When he was asked whether he really thought that was possible, he replied: “It’s a two-way process, not just one way.” He did not elaborate further.
Russia’s deputy foreign affairs minister, Sergey Vershinin, who said last week upon completion of the transfer of the missile system that “Syria has the right to defend itself,” also said Israel and Iran will have to negotiate.
“The question is how do you see yourself as a country in the region?,” he was reported to have said. ”In the end, you have to be able to negotiate, you have to learn to conduct a dialogue. You can’t ignore it.”
On Friday, France joined the US in sharply criticizing the Russian decision to deploy the S-300s in Syria.
“France notes with concern the delivery by Russia of sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities for the benefit of the Syrian regime,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von Der Muhll told reporters in an online briefing.
“Amid regional tensions, the delivery of such equipment by Russia contributes to maintaining the risk of military escalation and removing the prospect of a political settlement of the Syrian crisis,” she said.
A day earlier, US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees America’s forces in the Middle East, said the transfer of the S-300s represented a needless escalation and a knee-jerk response to the downing of the Russian aircraft.
The S-300 deployment “appears to be an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities in Syria. So, again, I think this is a needless, needless escalation,” he said.
Israel, meanwhile, has made it clear that it will continue to act against Iranian efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated this message Friday in a meeting with Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas, telling him that Israel expected the international community to “stand against Iran’s aggression in Syria and Lebanon.”

Reuters contributed to this report.