Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said all non-Syrian forces should withdraw from southwestern Syria as soon as possible, echoing his calls from earlier this week in an attempt to cool tensions between Israel and Iran.
The Times of Israel reported that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Wednesday afternoon for talks with his Russian counterpart on a possible settlement governing the presence of Iranian troops in Syria.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported the agreement would have Israel consent to Syrian regime forces taking positions in southwestern Syria and, in return, Russia would supervise the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the region near the Golan Heights. Russia would also accept Israel’s “freedom of action against Iranian consolidation in all of Syria.”
Lavrov told reporters earlier this week that only Syrian troops should be stationed in rebel-held Daraa province, a region adjacent to the Israeli border. Russia is concerned that hostilities between Israel and Iran could spiral into war, thereby undermining the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
“Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a mutual basis, this should be a two-way street,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow. “The result of this work which should continue and is continuing should be a situation when representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic’s army stand at Syria’s border with Israel.”
Citing Israeli security and diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel’s Channel 2 reported the Kremlin had decided to work on a settlement with Israel based on the removal of Iranian troops from the southwestern region, following a heavy Israeli bombardment of Iranian military targets in Syria on May 10. Israel attacked Iranian installments in retaliation after the IRGC-Quds Force launched 32 rockets at the Golan Heights border.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Twitter, stressed that Israel would not agree to any arrangement that allowed the presence of any Iranian troops in Syria, “The long-range missiles Iran is working to station in Syria will endanger us even beyond the range of several kilometers from southern Syria; therefore, Iran needs to leave Syria altogether. We’re not party to understandings to the effect that we have agreed to less than this.”
Last week, Iran rejected Russia’s calls to withdraw from southwestern Syria. “No one can force Iran to do anything,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said, according to the Tasnim news website.
Joshua S. Block, President and CEO of The Israel Project, wrote in an op-ed for the Hill on April 10 that any final settlement must entail the complete removal of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in all of Syria. “Israel and America’s Arab allies have consistently warned that Iran is building a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea that threatens not only Israel but the entire Middle East,” Block warned.
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