Israel says Russia working with pro-Iranian militias near Syria-Israel border

Officials confirm Iran-sponsored groups have been cooperating with Moscow in areas close to border as part of offensive against rebels in Daraa

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Smoke plumes rising from reported Syrian and Russian airstrikes across the border in Syria's southeastern Quneitra province, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, July 16, 2018. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)
Smoke plumes rising from reported Syrian and Russian airstrikes across the border in Syria's southeastern Quneitra province, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, July 16, 2018. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)

Despite claims by Israeli sources that Russia is acting to distance Iran from the Israeli-Syrian border, the recent Syrian army campaign in the area of Daraa, near the border, saw cooperation between the Russians army, Syrian forces, Hezbollah, and pro-Iranian militias.

Israeli military sources confirmed the information.

The regime’s assault, which began in mid-June, was directed at defeating rebel forces controlling the area. The Russians provided an aerial umbrella for the land forces acting on behalf of President Bashar Assad, which included pro-Iranian militias and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

According to claims by the Syrian opposition, the operation included face-to-face meetings between representatives of the Russian army and commanders of pro-Iranian Shiite militias, which were held in areas just 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from the Israeli border.

On the eve of the regime’s assault, there were reports that Israel had reiterated its longstanding demand that pro-Iranian militias, as well as Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, be withdrawn to at least 40-80 kilometers (25-50 miles) from the border.

According to some reports, Israel is demanding a complete withdrawal of Iranian forces from the country, though Russia has said that is unlikely to happen.

The Kremlin said the issue of the Iranian presence in Syria would feature high on the agenda of Monday’s meeting in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.

According to the Syrian American Council, an opposition-supporting lobby group in the US, Iraqi Shiite militia forces who operate under the auspices of Iran were seen in the city of Da’el, located just 30 kilometers from the Israeli border.

In a photograph obtained by the lobby group and shared with The Times of Israel on Monday, an unidentified Russian general is seen meeting with “Abu Ajeeb, commander of the Liwa Abu Fadel al-Abbas,” a militia set up in 2013 that acts under the auspices of the Revolutionary Guards.

According to the Free Syrian Army, the photograph shows a July 4 meeting in a schoolyard in Da’el. The authenticity of the photo and its location could not be confirmed, but given the cooperation and coordination between Russia and forces loyal to the regime in Daraa, it is not unlikely.

Meanwhile, Syrian media on Sunday night reported an airstrike in the Aleppo area, which it has attributed to Israel. According to Syrian opposition groups between nine and 22 people were killed, among them members of the Revolutionary Guards.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the considerable uptick in alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria comes partly in response to Iranian efforts to transfer a growing number of weapons into Syria. The supposed Israeli attacks, according to the WSJ, were focused on the supply lines for these weapons, which are intended to bolster Hezbollah and the pro-Iranian militias active in Syria.

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