Iran is only in Syria to fight ‘terror,’ says Russia’s Israel envoy
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Iran is only in Syria to fight ‘terror,’ says Russia’s Israel envoy

Alexander Shein defends Iranian presence on Israel's border, but insists Moscow respects Jerusalem's security concerns

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Russian Ambassador to Israel, Alexander Petrovich Shein, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. November 9, 2015. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
Russian Ambassador to Israel, Alexander Petrovich Shein, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. November 9, 2015. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Iran’s military presence in Syria is solely dedicated to the “war on terrorism,” Russia’s ambassador to Israel said Monday, seeking to defend a recent US-Russia agreement that would allow Iranian forces to remain in the war-torn country.

Jerusalem vehemently opposes any Iranian presence on its northern border, arguing that the Islamic Republic will use any foothold in Syria to attack Israel.

Writing on the embassy’s Facebook page, Alexander Shein said Moscow respects Israel’s security concerns, but reiterated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s assertion that Iran’s presence in Syria is legitimate.

“The aim of this presence is confined to war on terrorism. To this end, Russia cooperates with Iran in Syria,” Shein wrote.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/POOL/SERGEI KARPUKHIN)

Shein, who has been Russia’s ambassador to Tel Aviv since 2015, said he was surprised by the Israeli media’s reaction to the US-Russian agreement on Syria, and to Lavrov’s assertion of the legitimacy of Iran’s presence there.

“Russia consistently acts in conformity with norms and principles of the international law that legitimates the Iranian presence in Syria,” he wrote.

“In the post-conflict period it is for the Syrians themselves to agree upon foreign presence in their country within the scope of inclusive national dialogue. In other words, settling of this issue will be contingent on both the government in Damascus and political opposition forces. At the present time Russia spares no effort to launch such a dialogue,” Shein added.

Comment by Russia's Ambassador to Israel Alexander SheinThe way the Israeli media had reacted to Russia-US-Jordan…

Posted by Embassy of Russia in Israel / Посольство России в Израиле on Monday, 20 November 2017

The Russian ambassador also addressed Israeli misgivings about the November 8 agreement Washington and Moscow signed in Amman to create a “de-escalation zone” in Southern Syria.

The document is confidential and “of technical and operational nature defining measures needed to establish the Southern de-escalation zone,” Shein wrote. He added that there was no reason to “overestimate the significance” of the agreement to Israel’s national security interests.

“Russia respects the Israeli concerns in the field of national security,” he concluded.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on the Russian ambassador’s statement.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have made plain that Jerusalem will not tolerate Iran’s effort to create a “Shiite crescent” that would allow the regime’s troops to entrench themselves close to Israel’s borders.

Israeli soldiers take part in a mobile artillery exercise near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights on November 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the Iranians intend to “turn Syria into a military base for their war of destruction against Israel,” and indicated that he is willing to order military operations to prevent an Iranian entrenchment on Israel’s northern border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meeting in the former’s office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2017. (Prime Minister’s Office)

On October 17, Netanyahu met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Jerusalem, where the two men discuss discussed at great length the Islamic Republic’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria.

“Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu told Shoigu, according to his office.

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