Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said Friday he believed Israel and his country had reached an agreement on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from the Syrian-Israeli border.
“As I understand it, an agreement was reached,” Nebenzya told reporters, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “At this point, I can not answer if it is being realized, but as far as I understand, the parties that were involved in reaching an agreement are satisfied with what they have achieved.”
He said even if the reported agreement was not executed immediately, it would happen in the near future.
On Thursday Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported that Jerusalem and Moscow were holding “advanced talks” on a potential withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said the talks with Russia — conducted with US backing — were heading in the right direction, Hadashot reported, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin said the conversation focused on “some aspects of the Syrian settlement,” which it didn’t specify, following up on the two leaders’ talks in Moscow earlier this month.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also met his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday for talks focused on Syria.
Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Friday that the sides had reached an agreement green-lighting Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, as well as the withdrawal of Tehran-backed troops from Syria’s border with Israel.
The reported agreement would see Iranian forces leave southwestern Syria, while allowing Israel to strike Iranian assets deep in the country. Israel agreed not to attack Syrian regime targets, the report said.
A Russian source told Asharq al-Awsat that Russia was tight-lipped about the agreement to maintain “balance” in its diplomatic ties with Israel and Iran.
Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
Liberman on Thursday thanked Russia for “understanding” Israel’s security concerns. However, neither Jerusalem, nor Moscow, publicly acknowledged any agreement between the sides regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria.
“It is important to continue the dialogue between us and to keep an open line between the IDF and Russian army,” Liberman told Shoigu.
The Liberman-Shoigu meeting came on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s demand Wednesday that all foreign forces — including those from Iran, Turkey and the US — leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible, as well as his remarks Monday at a press conference in Moscow that only the Syrian regime should field military forces in the country’s southern border areas.
The return of the Syrian army to Israel’s northern border in return for the distancing of Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah from the area has been the subject of back channel discussions between Israel and Russia over recent weeks.
Netanyahu’s office continues to insist publicly that Israel demands the complete ouster of Iran and Hezbollah from the whole of Syria.
A source told the Ynet news site on Thursday that “Israel is uninterested in partial agreements, but rather in an exit of all Iranian forces from Syria.”
Amidst a flurry of activity relating to Iran, Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Adviser, flew to Washington on Wednesday to coordinate positions with the Trump administration.
Next week, Netanyahu will leave for France and Germany to discuss Iran’s role in Syria and the nuclear deal which the Europeans are trying to salvage after the US withdrawal earlier this month. He is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He may also call on Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK.