Fearing impact of Israeli strikes, Russia said mulling keeping Iran from border

Sources in Jerusalem believe that Putin will try to distance al-Quds Force and other Shiite militia at least 60 km from Israel to protect Assad’s regime

Illustrative: A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)
Illustrative: A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

Russia is considering trying to keep Iranian forces and their allies from Israel’s northern border, fearing that repeated Israeli strikes may undermine Syrian President Bashar Assad’s grip on the country, the Haaretz daily reported Monday, citing Israeli security and diplomatic sources in Jerusalem.

According to the report, Russia decided to work on a deal to remove the Iranian troops following a heavy Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria on May 10. The bombing raids came after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s al-Quds Force launched 32 rockets at Israel’s forward defensive line on the Golan Heights border.

Israel has acknowledged carrying out several aerial raids on Iranian targets in Syria, and suspected of carrying out several more. the most recent last week, when a military air base in western Syria was hit in an airstrike.

Much of the Iranian infrastructure is set up on Syrian bases and Israel has also frequently hit Syrian air defenses during strikes on Iranian targets.

The preemptive effort by the Israel Defense Forces against Iran and its allies in Syria is known collectively as “Operation Chess.”

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

However, just last week, Iran appeared to reject remarks from Russia’s leader that the Islamic Republic should pull its forces out of Syria after a political settlement is reached in the war-torn country.

“No one can force Iran to do anything,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said, according to the Tasnim news website.

Russia has reportedly also recently tried to involve the United States in an agreement to bring stability to Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war for the past seven years.

Jerusalem wants Iranian troops and Shiite militia groups aligned with it to be at least 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Golan Heights, Israel’s northern border with Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken several times with Russian President Vladimir Putin and stressed that Israel will not allow Iran and Shiite militias backed by Tehran to maintain a foothold near in Syria near the Israeli border.

Last November Russia reportedly made a deal with the Iranians that they would not come within five kilometers (three miles) of Israel’s border, but in practice Tehran has ignored this, and members of the Revolutionary Guard have occasionally been seen right on the border.

Israel suspects there are some 2,000 Iranian troops currently in Syria, Haaretz reported, along with almost 9,000 Shiite militia from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and another 7,000 members of the Hezbollah terror group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 9, 2018. (SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP)

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel was taking action against arms manufacturing in Lebanon and threatened continued fighting with Iran Sunday.

“We are working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. At the same time we are working against the establishment of an Iranian military presence against us; to this end we are also operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.

“All of these weapons are for use against the State of Israel and it is our right – based on the right of self-defense – to prevent their manufacture or transfer,” he said. Netanyahu did not specify what action was being taken against the arms in Lebanon.

On Thursday night a military air base in western Syria was hit in an airstrike, sparking large explosions, which were heard throughout the area, state media reported.

The Daba’a air base, also known as al-Qusair air base, and the surrounding area are known to be a stronghold for Hezbollah and Iran-backed militias. It was also reportedly struck by Israel in skirmishes against Syrian and Iranian forces on May 10.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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