Moscow will host negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 11. The discussion would center on Iran's presence in Syria, the Israeli PM said ahead of the meeting.
In fact, Tel Aviv has been engaged in sorting out problems it itself has created. It is not a secret that almost since the start of the crisis in the neighboring country Israel has been actively supporting militants from the so-called armed opposition. Extremists were treated at local hospitals, whereas Syrians were showing seized Israeli-made weapons. But the effect was opposite to what Tel Aviv had expected – Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and Iran's military came to Syria. They started to make their way to the Israeli border on the backdrop of successes of Syrian governmental troops. This has become a matter of grave concern for Tel Aviv, which is currently applying all means to solve the issue.
It is no coincidence that in July 2017, when the Russian and U.S. presidents, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, together with Jordan, reached the decision on setting up southern de-escalation zone in Syria, the document contained a clause on the withdrawal of all non-Syrian military units from surrounding territories. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July, 4 that Moscow has "to a large extent" fulfilled its part of agreement. At the same time, he reiterated that in the current situation in southern Syria, it is Syrian troops that should control the border with Israel.
But be as smart as a steel trap, the saying goes. Now Israel started to insist on withdrawal of non-Syrian troops not only from southern Syrian regions, but from the whole territory of the country. The U.S. supports the demand – the withdrawal of Iranian troops is one of 12 conditions that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put forth in May for the resumption of dialogue with Tehran.
Of course, one could say that talking of Iran's presence in Syria, Russia adopts a similar stance. But – there numerous details that make a difference. After a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, said "foreign troops" needed to withdraw from Syria. It would have been good as it was, but then, for some reason Russia's special representative for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev specified the list of foreign troops, naming Hezbollah and Iranian troops among others. This sparked a wave of speculations in a number of Western and Arab media outlets suggesting that there were some tensions in relations between Moscow and Tehran. Iranian officials also hinted – and that was absolutely fair – that it is Syria, not Russia that should decide on the presence of foreign troops on its territory.
President Putin set the record straight, saying that foreign troops should be withdrawn as soon as "political process starts and moves to its more active stage."
Anyway, Russia is perceived as the actor that can make Iranians "go away." And judging by developments around the southern de-escalation zone, not without reason. Before the beginning of the Syrian government forces’ offensive, Washington warned Damascus time and again that it would not turn a blind eye to more active combat actions there. Russian, U.S. and Israeli representatives were engaged in active consultations at all levels, and all of a sudden the U.S. made a U-turn, taking a wholly different approach. A number of news agencies reported that the U.S. had sent a message to armed opposition in southern Syria, saying it would not intervene if the situation escalates. And indeed, Americans are staying out. Judging by the list of actors and the sequence of events only one conclusion is coming to mind – security guarantees were provided to Israel against Iran and Hezbollah, and it was Russia that had given such guarantees.
Now they want Moscow to make further moves in that direction. However, Foreign Minister Lavrov tried to moderate their appetite.
"We see how the Western media discusses the subject of Iran in a very simplified context that is designed for a not very sophisticated audience: 'Iran must leave and everything will click into place.' This is applied not only to Syria but also to the entire region. It is alleged that Iran should leave, stay within its borders, and everything will be wonderful. This is absolutely unrealistic," Lavrov said.
Let's put it straight. Iran is not a puppet state and Russia has limited influence on it.
Why then Netanyahu is going to Moscow if all decisions have already been made? Well, this means that not all decisions have been made. And here is a good example. Russia has many times tried to ship S-300 air defense systems to Syria, the effort that was fading out each time Israeli prime minister visited Moscow.