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September 3, 2017 12:15 pm

Israel Must Treat Russian Promises on Syria ‘With Caution’ and Ready Itself to ‘Use Force Wisely’ to Thwart Iran’s Bid to Establish Permanent Presence There, Analysts Say

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An IDF soldier looks into southern Syria from the Israeli side of the border. Photo: IDF via Wikimedia Commons.

Israel must treat Russia’s promises vis-a-vis Syria “with caution” and also bolster its preparations to “use force wisely and with a low signature” against Iranian assets in its war-torn neighbor to the northeast, an analysis published by the Institute for National Security Studies on Sunday said.

The brief — authored for the Tel Aviv University-affiliated think tank by Zvi Magen, Udi Dekel and Sima Shine — delved into Israel’s efforts — highlighted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi – to make clear its concerns about Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent presence in Syria, as world powers continue to try to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict that has raged in the country for the past six and a half years.

“Israel’s struggle against Iran’s growing influence in Syria will be determined by the ability of both Iran and Israel to exercise effective levers of influence on Russia,” the analysis noted. “Russia for its part will try to maneuver between Israeli demands and the need for cooperation with Iran, partly by making conflicting promises to each side.”

Israel, the authors pointed out, faces three “constraints” as it considers its Syria options:

First, it must not allow the consolidation of Iranian influence in Syria for the long term, turning Syria into an Iranian client state and expanding the area of friction between Israel and Iran and its proxies. Second, relations with Russia are a strategic asset, and therefore Israel must find a way to maneuver between a credible threat of its determination to damage essential Russian interests in Syria, and its desire to continue the fruitful strategic coordination with Moscow. Third, the United States, Israel’s central ally, will not do the job for it. In addition, the Trump administration sees the Syrian arena as a place to promote cooperation with Moscow, which it wishes to extend to other arenas (above all, North Korea). Therefore, and based on the failed models in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no American desire to wallow in the Syrian swamp. In any case, Washington will give political backing to any Israeli course of action, including large scale military action, but no more than that.

Last week, as reported by The Algemeiner, Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov dismissed Israeli warnings that a ceasefire imposed by Moscow in Syria was enabling Iran and its Shiite terror proxy, Hezbollah, to amass fighters and weapons near the border with the Jewish state in preparation for a future war.

Lavrov 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 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.”

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