Small cracks in ties between Iran and Russia regarding Syria emerged for the second day in a row on Tuesday, when Russian sources were quoted as rejecting the idea that Moscow would use its advanced anti-aircraft batteries in Syria against Israeli planes going after Iranian targets.According to a report in the London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, sources close to the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow identified previous Israeli raids on Iranian positions in central Syria, “but did not respond.”Russia, according to these sources, is interested in preventing an “all-out confrontation between Israel and Iran” because that could “derail” Moscow’s efforts to solve the crisis in Syria.“Moscow seeks to maintain the delicate balance between the regional and international actors in the Syrian crisis in order to reach a sustainable and satisfactory political solution for all parties,” the sources were quoted as saying.Moscow, the paper cited the sources as saying, is “displeased by the Iranians’ lack of conviction in the political solution and their desire to continue the military solution and to encourage the [Assad] regime to do so, unlike the Turkish side, which in the past year pressed its allies to accept negotiations and make concessions.”A day earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi rejected a call from Moscow for all foreign troops to leave Syria.“No one can force Iran to do anything, Iran is an independent country that determines its own policies,” Qasemi said.“The presence of Iran is at the invitation of the Syrian government to fight against terrorism and defend the territorial integrity of Syria, and will last as long as the Syrian government wants Iran to help it,” he said. “Those who have entered the country without the consent of the Syrian government must leave Syria.”
On Thursday, after a surprise meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Sochi, Putin said, “We presume that, in connection with the significant victories and success of the Syrian Army in the fight against terrorism, with the onset of a more active part, with the onset of the political process in its more active phase, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.”The next day, Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, clarified that Putin’s statement “involves all foreign troops in Syria, including Turkish, American, Iranian and Hezbollah.”He said that Putin’s remarks should be viewed as a “political message,” and “not to view it as the beginning of a withdrawal process of foreign troops from Syria.”Israel has been urging Moscow for months to ensure an Iranian military withdrawal, saying that Tehran wants to use the country as a staging ground for attacks against Israel, just as Hezbollah has done from Lebanon. Up until now, Moscow’s general response has been that Iran is a sovereign country over which Russia does not have control.
Syria"s Assad flies to Russia for talks with Putin on military action in war-torn Syria, May 18, 2018 (Reuters)