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August 1, 2017 3:25 pm

Israeli Ambassador to Russia Expresses Renewed Concern Over Advantages for Iran From Trump-Putin Syria Deal

avatar by Ben Cohen

Dazed civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo flee from a Russian bombing raid. Photo: Screenshot.

Israel’s envoy in Moscow told a Russian news outlet on Tuesday that the Jewish state would remain “skeptical” of the recent US-Russian deal to create “de-escalation zones” in Syria until the issue of Iran’s growing military presence in the war-torn country was resolved.

“Until they bring concrete results in terms of reducing the Iranian presence, we will be skeptical about the effectiveness of this policy,” Israeli Ambassador Gary Koren said in an interview with the Sputnik news agency, a media outlet loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Koren said that Israel “appreciated” Russia’s diplomatic efforts in Syria, but insinuated that Israel’s national interests were not all served by the Syria agreement reached on July 7 — a deal that led one influential former IDF general to harshly criticize US President Donald Trump for “ignoring” his “commitment to oust the Iranians from Syria,” thereby exposing Israel to a heightened threat from Iran and Hezbollah on its own borders.

“I am talking about the interests of Israel,” Koren declared. “Russia can have its own interests.”

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Russia is closely aligned with Iran in Syria, and has joined the Tehran regime in providing massive military assistance to the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Several thousand Russian troops are now reported to be on the ground there, a presence which could frustrate attempts by the IDF to interdict Iranian shipments of weapons to its forces and proxies in Syria while avoiding direct conflict with Russian personnel.

The growing willingness of influential Israelis to criticize the Trump-Putin security arrangements in Syria — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke out against the deal just hours after it was announced — reflects an important shift in Israeli strategic thinking, which now regards Iran’s military presence in Syria as a more immediate danger than its nuclear program. As one anonymous Israeli official put it in a recent interview, “This is not just some disagreement. This is a real clash, pitting Israel against Russia and the United States. It reflects Israel’s conspicuous disappointment with the way that the Americans let Putin outmaneuver them, leading to the sellout of Israeli interests in the Golan Heights and Lebanon versus the Shiite axis.”

A new paper published by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) this week provided a detailed explanation of this line of thinking. Iranian and Hezbollah military proximity to Israel, the paper argued, leaves the Jewish state “unusual in its vulnerability to precision weapons, as on the one hand it is a Western country with advanced critical infrastructure, and on the other hand, it is a small country with concentrated critical infrastructures and little redundancy.” As an example, the paper pointed out that Israel’s electricity supply, concentrated in six sites, is especially at risk in the event of a renewed confrontation with Hezbollah and its Iranian paymasters.

“Israel will have to consider whether to continue accepting Iranian activity via its proxies and covert forces, and operate against these proxies — or to act directly against Iran,” the paper argued.

The paper warned that Russia “could try to limit Israel’s political, strategic, and even operational freedom to act (in Syria.)” However, it added, Russian political and military influence could “both coerce Israel and enable it to achieve political and strategic objectives using short, limited, and gradually escalating applications of force, combined with political dialogue with Russia and the United States.”



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