Russian envoy: Moscow, J'lem reached understandings on southwest Syria

Netanyahu and Putin have met three times this year, and have now spoken on the phone at least 10 times, a frequency that underlines the degree of coordination between the two countries.

July 22, 2018 22:18
3 minute read.
Russian envoy: Moscow, J'lem reached understandings on southwest Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin . (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Israel and Russia have an understanding regarding what southwestern Syria will look like after President Bashar Assad retakes complete control over the area bordering Israel, Russia’s ambassador to Israel said in a recent interview.

Anatoly Viktorov, in an interview with Russia’s Rossiya- 24 television channel on Friday, said the high-level Russian delegation that came to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day before he left for Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 11, “came to an understanding what these territories will look like after the complete expulsion of renegade and terrorist groups.”

The delegation included Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s special envoy on Syria, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin.

“The sides came to the understanding of how it will look like for Israel,” Viktorov said. “There are different reports in the media that some groups will withdraw from this area to a certain number of kilometers. It is quite true. There are specific agreements how it will look like in the future.”

Following his meeting with Putin in Moscow, Netanyahu said the Russians had moved Iranian forces and their Shia proxies dozens of kilometers away from Syria’s border with Israel. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will not accept an Iranian presence in Syria, but made clear in Moscow that “the immediate priorities were to distance the Iranian forces away from the border, and to remove Iranian longrange missiles from Syria.”

According to an op-ed by Josh Rogin in The Washington Post on Friday, Russia agreed with Israel to keep Iranian troops and proxy groups 80 kilometers from Israel’s border, and that Putin would not object if Israel strikes Iranian military positions in southern Syria, especially if Iran deploys weapons such as strategic missiles or anti-aircraft systems.

Netanyahu spoke by phone with Putin on Friday, just nine days after their last meeting. Jerusalem and Moscow chose to focus on different aspects of the conversation about Syria in the laconic statements they put out about the call.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying the two leaders spoke about developments in the region and the situation in Syria. Netanyahu, according to this statement, “noted that Israel will continue to act against the Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.”

The Kremlin statement, however, said the two leaders “continued their discussion on developments in the Middle East with an emphasis on the Syrian settlement process.”

In addition to the Putin-Netanyahu call, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke on Friday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. In that conversation, according to a tweet put out by the Russian Embassy, the two men “discussed cooperation between the two defense departments” and “exchanged views on the situation in southwest Syria.”

Netanyahu and Putin have met three times this year, and have now spoken on the phone at least 10 times, a frequency that underlines the degree of coordination between the two countries.

The phone call came four days after Putin’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki, in which both leaders spoke of the importance of Israel’s security.

Trump, in a Fox News interview after that meeting, said he and Putin “came to a lot of good conclusions” during the meeting, including “a really good conclusion for Israel, something very strong.”

Though Trump did not spell out what the conclusion was, he said Putin is “a believer in Israel; he is a fan of Bibi and really helping him a lot – and will help a lot, which is good for all of us.”

Putin, in his press conference with Trump after the Helsinki meeting, said, “The south of Syria should be brought to the full compliance with the treaty of 1974, about the separation of forces of Israel and Syria. This will bring peace to the Golan Heights and bring [a] more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel – and also provide security of the State of Israel.”

Putin said during the press conference that Trump “paid special attention to the issue during today’s negotiations. And I would like to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and will act accordingly.”

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