(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hezbollah has neither the “reason nor opportunity to engage in hostilities against Israel” from the Golan Heights, Russia’s new ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein said in a special interview for next week’s annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
In response to a question whether Russia – now militarily active in Syria – would act to keep Hezbollah from opening a new front against Israel from Syrian territory, Shein said, “As far as I understand, Hezbollah is pretty occupied in Syria assisting the Syrian government in its battle against irreconcilable terrorists. Consequently, it has neither reason nor opportunity to engage in hostilities against Israel.” The interview was conducted via email.
Shein, who formerly served as his country’s envoy to Amman, said Syria “is essential for stability in the Middle East.” He said that since the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011, Russia has made it clear that it would do everything in its power to “prevent another Libyan scenario,” meaning “a large-scale foreign military intervention and the disintegration of statehood.”
Shein said Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in its fight against Islamic State was “aimed at ensuring” Russia’s national security interests.
“The Russian leadership firmly believes that we must neutralize this terrorist scourge in its current boundaries and prevent it from spreading to other regions, including the North Caucasus,” he said. “The reality of this threat to us is absolutely clear, given the fact that more than 2,000 Russian citizens and approximately 4,000- 6,000 citizens of other CIS member states are fighting in the ranks of ISIS.
Regarding whether the Kremlin wanted to see Assad retain power, he said the “weakening of the state rule in Syria under the impact of foreign meddling has created vacuum and anarchy zones, which were filled by terrorists.
It is quite obvious that if President Bashar Assad steps down now, appetites of the terrorists will dramatically increase, while fighting capabilities of the Syrian army will decrease.”
Asked if Russia’s involvement in Syria will limit Israel’s ability to act there to prevent the transfer of state-of-the-art weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah, Shein emphasized that the Russian air force operations there were “strictly limited,” and not aimed against the “security interests of the Middle East states, including Israel.” At the same time, he added somewhat cryptically, “We hope that the tension between Israel and Syria will not aggravate the situation and impede the settlement of the Syrian crisis.”
He said the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was marked by “a substantive, regular and – importantly – a trusting dialogue.” He praised Israel’s policy of neutrality on the Ukrainian issue, and said he hopes this “reflects the fact that Israel cares for the future of its relations with Russia.