Russia insists Iran near Israeli border is ‘legitimate’

Speaking after Netanyahu highlights shortfalls in recently signed agreement that permits Iranian-backed proxies to dig in mere kilometers from its northern border, Russia’s foreign minister debunks notion that Kremlin ever committed to limiting Iranian presence in Syria.

By Jack Ben-David

Russia’s foreign minister signaled Tuesday that Israeli demands to rid Syria’s southern border of hostile, Iranian-backed forces have fallen on deaf ears, telling reporters that an Iranian presence in the country is, in any event, “legitimate.”

Laborious diplomatic efforts undertaken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years and months to convince Moscow to expel Iranian proxies from the precarious border on the Golan Heights were rebuffed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who claimed that the Kremlin had never committed to fully removing the forces, nor had it signaled willingness to comply with Israeli demands that Iranian proxies or military bases be expunged for the country.

Israel has repeatedly voiced its concerns about Iranian-backed proxies, such as the Hezbollah terror group, entrenching themselves in the war-ravaged country, and particularly on the border with the Golan Heights.

With Russia serving as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chief patron propping up his regime in the protracted civil war, Netanyahu held numerous meetings with President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials in a bid to garner Moscow’s support and avoid a direct clash with Russian interests.

Most recently, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  met with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu in Jerusalem where he informed him that Israel would not stand by as Tehran’s forces attempted to dig in and threaten its northern frontier.

“Iran has to understand that Israel will not allow this,” Netanyahu reportedly told Shoygu.

Learning that the Syrian ceasefire agreement renewed on Saturday by Russia, the US and Jordan obligated Hezbollah to vacate the immediate border vicinity, but permitted them to take up positions,   as little as 5-7km from the border.  Netanyahu doubled down on his comments, telling his Likud faction on Monday that the IDF would not be constrained by the terms of the agreement.

“I clarified for our friends, first and foremost in Washington and also our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria, including in southern Syria, in accordance with its understanding and our security needs,” the prime minister said in his opening remarks.

Preventing the installment of Iranian forces or military bases in Syria and Lebanon has been a longstanding cornerstone of Netanyahu’s foreign policy.

However, much to Netanayhu’s chagrin, reports in British media did not bode well for the success of his goals, and portended a possible military confrontation in the future following the publication of satellite images showing continued work on a military site intended for Iranian forces.