After a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears as though the leaders have come to a compromise about how to restrain Iran.
Netanyahu, who previously said he would not stand for any Iran military presence in Syria, is now agreeing to just have Iran’s long-range missiles removed from Syria and to get Iranian forces further away from Israel’s border.
“We did not have a problem with the Assad regime for 40 years,” said Netanyahu on Wednesday. “Not one bullet was fired on the Golan Heights. What bothered us in the beginning was Islamic State [near Israel’s border], and afterward Iran and Hezbollah were brought there. We will not accept Iran on our border, or anywhere else in Syria. But our emphasis is on two things: getting rid of the missiles and the proximity of Iranian troops to the border.”
Israel now seems open to an agreement after Russia has helped to distance Iranian and Hezbollah forces from Israel’s border.
“Mr. Netanyahu’s suggestion of progress in talks with Mr. Putin came at a crucial moment: Syrian forces backed by Russia and Iran are laying siege to a rebel-controlled pocket of southwestern Syria, sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing toward Jordanian and Israeli territory,” writes the New York Times.
But Russia also needs Israel.
“Nobody can these days destabilize the Assad regime,” said Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence to the NYT. “The only one who can do it is Israel. And the Russians know that very well. So to get a commitment from Israel not to destabilize Syria is something that Russia will value very much.”
Israel made it clear that they will attack if ISIS forces try to get to the border and Netanyahu also said that if there is any “spillover’ from the fighting over the border, Israel will take aggressive action.
Prior to Putin and Netanyahu’s meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Israel to tread softly with Russia when it comes to the Syrian conflict.
“To our friends in Israel – be very careful making agreements with Russia re Syria that affect U.S. interests,” tweeted Graham. “I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria. U.S. must maintain presence in Syria to ensure ISIS doesn’t come back and to counter Russia/Iran influence.”
“It is their decision,” said Netanyahu. “The US position as I understand it, which was articulated by Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo and others, is that they will not leave until Iran leaves Syria.”
However, President Donald Trump did say that he wanted to withdraw the U.S. troops from Syria a few months ago.
Author’s note: Russia’s stance on Iran remains as a point of contention with the U.S. So Israel, a U.S. ally, needs to approach this gently. Also, can Israel really trust Russia to remove Iranian forces from Syria?