Commander Qasem Soleimani of the IRGC’s Quds Force with Shia Afghani troops in Aleppo, May 2016
By Barak Ravid (Paris)
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov responds to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who told reporters that Israel is ‘utterly opposed’ to the arrangement as it perpetuates Iran’s presence in Syria
PARIS – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, that Russia and the United States would do all they could to address Israeli concerns about the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria.
He was responding to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who told reporters in Paris late on Sunday that the arrangement perpetuated Iran’s presence in Syria and that Israel was therefore “utterly opposed” to it.
The public objection was rare for Netanyahu, who has sought to avoid confrontation with Moscow and Washington over Syria.
A senior Israeli official who asked not to be named due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter said on Sunday Israel is aware of Iranian intensions to substantially expand its presence in Syria. Iran is not only interested in sending advisers to Syria, the official said, but also in dispatching extensive military forces including the establishment of an airbase for Iranian aircraft and a naval base.
“This already changes the picture in the region from what it has been up to now,” the senior official said.
Netanyahu discussed the cease-fire deal with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone Sunday night.
A week and a half ago, Russia and the U.S. announced that they reached an agreement on a cease-fire in south Syria which included a no-man’s lands along the border between Syria and Jordan and the border between Syria and Israel. During the last month Israel held talks with senior officials in the U.S. government over the agreement. As part of these talks both Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk and U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney visited Israel.
During these talks, Israel presented a list of demands for and issues with the agreement. Israel asked that the no-man’s land would be used to keep Iran, Hezbollah, and the Shiite militias away from its borders. In addition, Israel made let it be known that it was unhappy with the fact that the Russian army will be responsible for the keeping of the cease-fire in these border zones.