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Ashkenazi tells Russian FM Iranian entrenchment in Syria must be prevented

Top diplomat meets counterpart Lavrov for first time since entering office; they discuss issue of Iran and its proxy terror groups across the region

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Athens, Greece, October 26, 2020. (Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Athens, Greece, October 26, 2020. (Foreign Ministry)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for the first time on Monday, thanking him for working with the Jewish state “on preventing an Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”

Meeting during a diplomatic visit to the Greek capital of Athens, Ashkenazi updated Lavrov on developments on the normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan, as well as the issue of Iran and its proxy terror groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Israel appreciates the ties and the coordination with the Russian government on preventing an Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Ashkenazi was quoted in the statement as saying, calling for preventing Tehran from arming Hezbollah.

The statement also said other bilateral matters were discussed, including cooperation on the economy and battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted about the meeting, without offering more details.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Prime Minister’s Residence, Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone, days after a Kremlin diplomat said Moscow could sell an ultra-advanced air defense system to Iran.

“During the conversation, regional security matters, the Iranian aggression, and the situation in Syria were discussed,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement at the time.

A week earlier, the Russian ambassador to Iran had said that Moscow would have “no problem” selling Tehran an advanced air defense system when the UN arms embargo on the Islamic Republic expired on October 18.

Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan. (Screen capture: YouTube)

“We have said since the very first day that there will be no problem for selling weapons to Iran from October 19,” Levan Dzhagaryan told the Resalat daily in an interview, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

In August, the UN Security Council voted down a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran. The Trump administration, however, unilaterally asserted last month that “snapback” UN sanctions were now in force and vowed to punish those that violated them.

Dzhagaryan, however, brushed off the threat of US sanctions and said Moscow would consider any weapon requests from Iran after October 18.

“As you know, we have provided Iran with S-300. Russia does not have any problem delivering S-400 to Iran and it did not have any problem before either,” he said.

Dzhagaryan was referring to the delivery of the S-300 to Iran following the signing of the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers that placed curbs on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2010, Russia froze a deal to supply the system to Iran, linking the decision to UN sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Israel unsuccessfully sought to block the sale to Iran of the S-300 system, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, and would likely oppose providing Iran with the S-400.

Illustrative: Image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia in 2015 deployed the S-400 to Syria, where, along with Iran, it is fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.

The deployment of the system, which is powerful enough to track the vast majority of Israeli airspace, undercut Israel’s aerial superiority in Syria, where it has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets linked to Iran and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

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