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Iran not destabilizing Mideast, Israeli-Arab conflict is, says Russian envoy

Anatoly Viktorov also claims Israel is the aggressor for attacking Hezbollah arms shipments, says there is ‘no proof’ terror group behind attack tunnels dug under northern border

Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, November 2019. (Raphael Ahren/TOI)
Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, November 2019. (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

Russia’s envoy to Israel said Tuesday it is the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab entities that is destabilizing the Middle East, not Iran.

Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov also accused Israel of being an aggressor for attacking arms shipments to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, and questioned whether tunnels found under the Israel-Lebanon border were dug by the Lebanese organization.

“The problem in the region is not Iranian activities,” Viktorov told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s a lack of understanding between countries and non-compliance with UN resolutions in the Israel-Arab and Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Referring to airstrikes in Syria, attributed to Israel, that have targeted Iranian military position and arms convoys heading to Hezbollah, Viktorov said that Israel is causing the violence.

“Israel is attacking Hezbollah, Hezbollah is not attacking Israel,” he said, adding that Israel should not attack “the territories of sovereign UN members.”

Viktorov also rejected the idea that Israel coordinates such attacks with Russia, saying any warning Jerusalem gives Moscow on such attacks is about the safety of Russian forces in Syria — there to support the regime as it quells a lingering civil war.

Illustrative: Smoke billows following an alleged Israeli airstrike south of Damascus, Syria, on July 20, 2020 (AFP)

“There is no way that we are approving any Israeli strikes on Syria, never in the past and never in the future,” he stressed.

Israel has a channel of communication with Russia to prevent the two countries’ militaries from clashing in the Syria arena. However, in 2018, Russia blamed Israel when Syrian air defenses accidentally shot down a Russian plane during an airstrike, killing all 15 crew members.

Israel, which rarely admits to carrying out the strikes, has kept up a determined campaign aimed at keeping Iran-backed fighters from gaining a foothold in Syria.

The campaign has included thousands of airstrikes on targets linked to Iran and alleged weapons convoys, according to reports and accounts from officials speaking anonymously.

Regarding tunnels found by the Israel Defense Forces last year under the northern border and which the IDF said were dug by Hezbollah in preparation for a major future assault on the country, Viktorov said there was “no proof Hezbollah created the tunnels.”

The IDF reveals what it says is the longest cross-border attack tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, May 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Viktorov also blamed the US for the unraveling of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that removed sanctions from Iran in return for the dismantling of its nuclear program.

The deal, still supported by the other signatories — including Russia — is crumbling as the Trump administration reimposed harsh sanctions and Iran has increased its uranium enrichment.

Viktorov said it was “unfortunate” that the US exited the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and added that this was what had led Iran to begin dropping its own commitments to the deal. This, he said, was also “unfortunate.”

On a more positive note, he said Russia supports the recent US-brokered normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as the moves towards a similar agreement with Sudan.

But he said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must still be addressed with the aim of reaching a two-state solution.

“We strongly believe that the Palestinian question should not be put aside,” he said. “The normalization should not replace a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, because this problem will remain and will continue to endanger not only the countries and peoples of the region but also many others around the globe,” he said.

Viktorov reiterated Russia’s offer to host Israeli-Palestinian talks in Moscow.

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