Russia’s chief Syria negotiator said in an interview Wednesday that his country has convinced the Iranian forces in Syria to withdraw to at least 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israeli border, despite Israel’s insistence that no Iranian troops be permitted anywhere in the war-torn country.
Alexander Lavrentyev told Sputnik news site, “We took into account the Israeli concerns, we managed to attain the pullout of Iranian units 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israeli border.”
Asked if Israel was becoming less concerned over the pro-Iranian units’ presence near its border, Lavrentyev replied: “Yes, of course, we are certain of this.”
It was not clear what prompted him to say this as Israel has repeatedly and forcefully stated that it will not accept any Iranian presence at all in Syria. Last week it 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, moments after a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this evening at the Prime Minister's Office with a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. pic.twitter.com/jF1iwgAjKq
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) July 23, 2018
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 country and that any factories producing precision-guided missiles there be shut, the 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.”
Earlier this month, during a call between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime minister noted “that Israel would continue to act against the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria,” according to a statement from his office.
Netanyahu has spoken and met with Putin regularly in recent years about Syria and military coordination between the two countries there, most recently during his visit to Moscow last week. Along with Iran, Russian forces are backing the regime of President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.
On Monday Russia’s ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov told Channel 10 news that the Iranians were “playing a very, very important role in our common and joint efforts to eliminate terrorists in Syria.
Like Iran, Russia is providing military backing Assad with backing in the Syrian civil war.
“The Iranian presence in Syria… is fully legitimate according to the UN principles and the UN charter,” he added.
The Syrian army and its Russian and Iran-backed allies since June have been on an offensive in southern Syria, raising concerns Iranian proxies could take up positions in formerly rebel-held areas bordering the Golan Heights. Israel has called for the 1974 disengagement agreement between it and Syria to be upheld and warned Syrian forces against entering the demilitarized buffer zone along the border.