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US to press Russia for help countering Iran in Syria — report

Trump administration official says Washington to seek Moscow’s support combating Tehran’s regional influence at upcoming Jerusalem summit

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, troops march in a military parade marking National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran on April 18, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Illustrative: In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, troops march in a military parade marking National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran on April 18, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

A senior official in the Trump administration on Tuesday said that the US was going to tell Russia that Iran should withdraw from Syria, and ask for Moscow’s suggestions on how to counter Tehran’s influence in the region.

US officials were going to make the request in talks between security advisers from Israel, Russia and the US at a summit in Jerusalem at the end of June, according a Channel 13 report.

The unnamed official said that the US supported Israel’s actions against Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

“We would hope to make the point in conjunction with the Israelis that we don’t see any positive role for the Iranians – and that would extend beyond Syria, to Lebanon, to Iraq, to Yemen – other places where they’re active,” the official said, according to a Reuters report.

He added that Washington was sure that the summit, with Israel hosting both Russia and the US in Jerusalem, would irk the Iranian leadership, and said that the fact that Russia was participating was a positive sign.

“The fact that the Russians see value in these conversations, that they’re willing to do it publicly, I think is in and of itself quite significant,” the official said.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem later this month, according to an announcement made by the White House last week.

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.

A Sunday report by the Israel’s Kan public broadcaster said that Israel and the US would offer incentives to Russia at the summit in a bid to curb Iranian influence in Syria, which could include legitimizing the continued leadership of Syria leader Bashar Assad. The report, citing the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, did not clarify what the other proposals would be.

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

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with the US National Security Adviser John Bolton, during a statement to the media follow their meeting in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019. ( Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

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.

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.

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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