Russia is working quietly to open avenues of communication between Jerusalem and Tehran “in order to reduce tensions and prevent friction” in Syria, London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported Saturday, citing a senior Russian source.
The source told the paper the move was made in light of Moscow’s decision to provide the Assad regime with advanced anti-aircraft missiles.
No details were given as to how such a communications channel would work, but the source said Russia could potentially mediate between the sides in the conflict over Iran’s military presence and actions in Syria.
Russia is giving Syria the S-300 system following the downing last month of a Russian intelligence gathering aircraft by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli strike over Syrian airspace. Russia has blamed Israel for the incident, which killed 15 Russian soldiers.
Israel and its allies for years have lobbied Russia not to give Syria and other regional players the S-300 system, arguing that it would limit Israel’s ability to neutralize threats, including by the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.
The S-300 system, considered one of the most advanced in the world, has a radius of some 200 kilometers, meaning a battery placed near Damascus would cover much of Israel.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria. It has launched numerous attacks on targets it says are a threat to its security.
Russia, which is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has maintained a deconfliction hotline with Israel, allowing the Jewish state to carry out the attacks as long as it was informed beforehand.
On Thursday Russia’s chief rabbi said Moscow’s decision to give Syria the S-300 system was a “mistake,” offering a rare rebuke of his country’s defense policy.
General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, said the deployment would cause a “needless escalation.”
JTA contributed to this report.