Israel, US to suggest legitimizing Assad if Russia curbs Iran in Syria – report
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Israel, US to suggest legitimizing Assad if Russia curbs Iran in Syria – report

Arabic newspaper quotes Western diplomats on proposal regarding Syrian leader at upcoming meeting in Jerusalem of US, Israeli, Russian national security advisers

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel and the US will offer incentives to Russia later this month in a bid to curb Iran’s influence in Syria, which could include legitimizing the continued leadership of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, a London-based Arabic newspaper reported Sunday.

The incentives will be raised at an unprecedented trilateral meeting of national security advisers scheduled for later this month in Jerusalem, according to a report in Asharq al-Awsat that quoted Western diplomats and was cited by Israel’s Kan public broadcaster. The report did not clarify what the other proposals could be.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev will meet in Jerusalem later this month, according to an announcement made by the White House on Wednesday, just minutes before the Knesset voted to disband and to set new elections for September 17.

The rare tripartite meeting is expected to deal mostly with Syria, specifically Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily near Israel’s borders, and the planned withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.

Moscow is a close ally of Tehran and Damascus, while Jerusalem and Washington are the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemies.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, is greeted by Russian Security Council chairman Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow, Russia, October 22, 2018. (Press Service of the Russian Security Council via AP)

Ben-Shabbat met Bolton last month in Washington, mainly to discuss Iran and “other destabilizing actors,” a senior US administration official said at the time.

Bolton and Ben-Shabbat reiterated their “shared commitment to countering Iranian malign activity & other destabilizing actors in the Middle East and around the world,” the US national security adviser tweeted.

Ben-Shabbat last met with Patrushev in September 2018 in Moscow to discuss “regional issues in the Middle East, including the situation in Syria,” according to a readout provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. “National Security Adviser Ben-Shabbat emphasized that Israel insists that Iranian forces must leave all of Syria,” the readout said.

Toward the start of the Syrian civil war, the Israeli military established a number of “red lines” that if violated would result in a retaliatory strike, including any attacks — intentional or otherwise — against Israel.

This photo released on the official Facebook page of Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaking with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Damascus, Syria, April 16, 2019. (Syrian Presidency Facebook page via AP)

They also included Iranian efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and attempts to transfer advanced munitions to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group.

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in response to these “red line” violations.

Early Sunday morning, the Israel Defense Forces attacked several military targets in Syria in response to two rockets that were fired from the country at the Golan Heights on Saturday night.

Helicopters and planes attacked several targets connected to the Syrian army, including two artillery batteries, several observation and intelligence outposts, and an SA-2 type air defense unit, the IDF said in a statement.

An IDF airstrike hits Syrian military targets, June 1, 2019. (IDF spokesperson’s unit)

Syrian media reported that Israel also struck several targets connected to Iran and is proxy militias in Syria, in the area of al-Kiswah, south of Damascus. These strikes reportedly targeted weapons caches and a military training facility.

The Israeli army refrained from specifying whom it believes fired the two rockets at the Golan Heights — one of which landed inside Israeli territory, the other in Syria — but said it “sees the Syrian regime as responsible for all attacks against Israel from Syrian territory.”

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