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February 21, 2018 3:04 pm

Expert: Russia’s Condemnation of Iran’s Anti-Israel Threats Shows Kremlin Sees Jewish State as the ‘Main Actor’ in Region

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin.

A former Israeli ambassador to Russia has declared that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent condemnation of a top Iranian official’s threat to destroy Tel Aviv is proof that Russia now considers Israel the “main actor” in the region.

On Sunday, Netanyahu spoke at the Munich Security Conference, following the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli territory. Brandishing a piece of the downed drone, he warned Iran “do not test Israel’s resolve.”

In response, Mohsen Rezaee — a former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has been sanctioned by the US for terrorist activity — said on Monday, “About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground” and not “give Netanyahu any opportunity to flee.”

Later on Monday, in a speech given at the Valdai International Discussion Club, Lavrov appeared to respond to Rezaee, saying, “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests.”

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Russia expert Zvi Magen — a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies and and an ex-Israeli ambassador to Moscow — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that Lavrov’s words showed that Russia viewed Israel as the “main actor” in the region, and was acting accordingly.

Lavrov’s statement, according to Magen, “represents the official position because foreign minister is the highest official, he speaks in the name of the state.”

“Generally speaking,” Magen added, “the Russians are on the right side of the problem” regarding the Israel-Iran conflict, even though Russia is a close ally of the Iranians.

“They believe that they have to keep Iran far from Israel’s borders,” Magen said of the Russians.

Counterintuitively, Magen said, Russia actually sees Israel as less of a problem than its own ally.

“For the time being at least,” he stated, “Iran is more of a challenge for Russia than for Israel” because of the ongoing “fight about the future of Syria. Israel is not a part in this fight. In Syria, Russia and Iran are challenging each other because each side sees the future solution in a different way. Russia would like to see Syria as a weak federation … with a weak government in Damascus — with Assad, without Assad, it doesn’t matter.”

Conversely, “Iran is in the process of creating an empire or kind of an empire” of which Syria is a part. “It’s not exactly what Russians are trying to achieve.”

Asked whether Russia’s partnership with Iran could be beneficial to Israel, as it gives Russia the leverage to restrain the Islamic Republic, Magen replied, “The Russians and the Israelis are in a relatively good relationship. Not only because of Iran. Because on a general level, Russia understands very well the real situation in the field. There are a few regional actors and Iran is one of them, Turkey is another one, but Israel is the main actor in Russian eyes. … It’s a military power which can win against any other in the area and all of them together. So Russia is not in a position to play games with Israel.”

As a result, Russia has consistently allowed Israel to act against threats on its northern border, so long as the Jewish state remains neutral in the ongoing civil war in Syria.

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