Israel rejects Russian offer to keep Iran 100 km from Syrian border
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Israel rejects Russian offer to keep Iran 100 km from Syrian border

After Netanyahu meets Moscow's FM Lavrov, senior official says Jerusalem insisting Iranian forces leave Syria entirely

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

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and PM Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 23,2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and PM Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 23,2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israel has rejected a Russian proposal to keep Iranian forces in Syria 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from Israel’s northern border, a senior Israeli official said Monday, moments after a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded in Jerusalem.

Israel is sticking to its demand that Iran not be allowed any military foothold in Syria, the official stressed. Israel is furthermore demanding that all long-range missiles be removed from the war-torn country and that any factories producing precision-guided missiles there be shut, the official said.

Additionally, Jerusalem has asked Moscow to guarantee that all air-defense systems that protect the aforementioned arms be taken out of Syria. Lastly, Israel requested the closing of border crossings between Syria and Lebanon and between Syria and Iraq, to prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled into Syria.

“This was a very important meeting at a significant time, during which we delved into many details, produced maps and shared intelligence, and explained in great detail our policy,” the senior official told Israeli reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Besides Netanyahu and Lavrov, also present at the two-hour meeting were Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, as well as the head of Russia’s army, Valery Gerasimov, and other senior officials.

“The link between us is extraordinarily important and it exists, as you have seen, in the direct meetings between myself and President [Vladimir] Putin and between our staffs,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the meeting.

PM Netanyahu hosts a senior Russian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 23 (Haim Zach/GPO)

He added that he “appreciated” comments made by Putin and US President Donald Trump at their summit in Helsinki last week, during which both leaders vowed to take Israel’s security concerns into consideration as they discussed the future of Syria.

Russia is “committed” to create a security belt of about 100 km from Israel’s northern border, the senior Israeli official said Monday evening, stressing that Jerusalem was happy for that to happen as a first step, though it will continue to be act to prevent an Iranian entrenchment anywhere else in Syria.

As long as Iranian forces possess the capability to fire long-range missiles at Israeli targets, even if they are stationed outside Russia’s proposed buffer zone, the Israeli Air Force will not stop acting to protect Israeli citizens, the senior official said.

The Russian “aspiration” of creating a 100-kilometer zone in which neither Iranian forces nor Tehran’s proxy militias are present is insufficient for Israel, the senior official went on. “Iran wants to turn Syria into a second Lebanon. And we’re determined to prevent that.”

Asked how the Russian officials reacted to the Israeli demands, the senior official said, “They listened very carefully. They know our demands, but today they received a great deal of detailed information.”

The official added that Israel had disclosed to the Russians some hitherto unknown intelligence.

Earlier on Monday, during the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he would also tell the visiting Russian delegation that Israel insists on Syria keeping to the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, and that “Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to establish a military presence in Syria.”

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