Russian FM Sergei Lavrov Scorns Israeli Concerns Over Iranian Build-Up in Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a PR offensive this week to counter Israeli warnings that a ceasefire imposed by Moscow in Syria is enabling Iran and its terror proxy, Hezbollah, to amass fighters and weapons near the Jewish state’s northern border in preparation for a future war.
Lavrov — a storied diplomat who began his career in the Soviet Foreign Ministry during the Cold War — told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha on Wednesday, “We do not have any information that someone is preparing an attack on Israel.” He also defended Iran’s role in Syria in supporting, alongside Russia, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “Whatever area of cooperation between Iran and Syria, my position is that if their cooperation in whichever field does not violate the basic provisions of international law, it should not be cause for question,” Lavrov said.
On Friday, Lavrov parried Israel’s displeasure with the terms of the ceasefire by implying that Israel had been kept fully abreast of developments in the negotiations to create so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria — areas that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others fear will now become ripe targets for Iran.
“When this decision was being prepared, the Israeli partners were being informed on the direction of this work, alongside trilateral contacts of Russia, the United States and Jordan,” Lavrov claimed, before denying that Israel’s “security interests” had been “ignored.”
At a meeting on August 24 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Netanyahu told his host that while he welcomed the victories against ISIS in Syria, “we cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel.”
Iran “arms terrorist organizations; it sponsors and initiates terror,” Netanyahu said.
Lavrov’s comments this week followed a report in the Arab media on Monday quoting a “high-placed” Israeli official warning of a possible attack on Syria. The unnamed official was originally reported by the Al Jadida newspaper to have stated that Israeli jets would target Assad’s palace in Damascus if the Iranian expansion into Syria continues.
Contrary to Lavrov’s claims on Friday, the official said that no understanding had been reached between Jerusalem and Moscow on the implications of the Syrian ceasefire for Israel.
In an interview with the Hebrew news site Walla that was published on Friday, Alexander Shein, Russia’s ambassador to Israel, said that Moscow — a partner to the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic — opposed Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but did not get specific. Russia’s interest in the region, Shein said, was in keeping relations between Israel, Arab countries and Iran “balanced.”