Iran’s military presence in Syria is solely dedicated to the “war on terrorism,” Russia’s ambassador to Israel said Monday, seeking to defend a recent U.S.-Russia agreement that would allow Iranian forces to remain in the war-torn country, Times of Israel reports.
Jerusalem vehemently opposes any Iranian presence on its northern border, arguing that the Islamic Republic will use any foothold in Syria to attack Israel. Writing on the embassy’s Facebook page, Alexander Shein said Moscow respects Israel’s security concerns, but reiterated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s assertion that Iran’s presence in Syria is legitimate. The statement was later published on Twitter.
“The aim of this presence is confined to war on terrorism. To this end, Russia cooperates with Iran in Syria,” Shein wrote.
Shein, who has been Russia’s ambassador to Tel Aviv since 2015, said he was surprised by the Israeli media’s reaction to the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria, and to Lavrov’s assertion of the legitimacy of Iran’s presence there.
“Russia consistently acts in conformity with norms and principles of the international law that legitimates the Iranian presence in Syria. In the post-conflict period it is for the Syrians themselves to agree upon foreign presence in their country within the scope of inclusive national dialogue. In other words, settling of this issue will be contingent on both the government in Damascus and political opposition forces. At the present time Russia spares no effort to launch such a dialogue,” he wrote.
The Russian ambassador also addressed Israeli misgivings about the November 8 agreement Washington and Moscow signed in Amman to create a “de-escalation zone” in Southern Syria. The document is confidential and “of technical and operational nature defining measures needed to establish the Southern de-escalation zone,” Shein wrote. He added that there was no reason to “overestimate the significance” of the agreement to Israel’s national security interests.
“Russia respects the Israeli concerns in the field of national security,” he concluded.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on the Russian ambassador’s statement. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have made plain that Jerusalem will not tolerate Iran’s effort to create a “Shi’ite crescent” that would allow the regime’s troops to entrench themselves close to Israel’s borders.
Earlier this month, the U.S., Russia and Jordan reached an agreement in Amman to establish a temporary de-escalation zone in southwest Syria. The deal was part of a similar trilateral accord back in June. Reports said the agreement provides for the withdrawal of “non-Syrian fighters” allied with the Syrian government from the truce area. However, Lavrov said that in the deal “there was no talk of Iran, furthermore, of pro-Iranian forces’” withdrawal.
Irked by Lavrov’s comments, Israeli minister of military affairs Avigdor Lieberman said a day later that Tel Aviv “simply will not allow Shia and Iranian entrenchment in Syria.”
Elsewhere in his message, Shein said that he was surprised by the Israeli media’s reaction to the agreement on Syria and to Lavrov’s defense of Iran’s presence there.
“Russia consistently acts in conformity with norms and principles of the international law that legitimates the Iranian presence in Syria. The aim of this presence is confined to war on terrorism. To this end, Russia cooperates with Iran in Syria,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the Iranians intend to “turn Syria into a military base for their war of destruction against Israel,” and indicated that he is willing to order military operations to prevent an Iranian entrenchment on Israel’s northern border. On October 17, Netanyahu met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Jerusalem, where the two men discuss discussed at great length the Islamic Republic’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria.
“Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu told Shoigu, according to his office.