Senior Russian officials arrived in the Jewish State on Wednesday to discuss distancing Iranian forces from the Syrian-Israeli border.
By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
A group of high-level Russian officials, including at least one senior intelligence officer, arrived in Israel Wednesday to continue a months-long dialogue on concerns regarding Iran’s presence in Syria, in addition to discussing the terror threat in the Middle East in general.
The delegation spoke with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and is expected to meet other defense officials and IDF officers as well during their visit. The most crucial topic under discussion is Israel’s demand to that Iran and its military proxies move at least 60-70 kilometers away from the border area.
The Russian visit follows hard on the heels of Liberman’s quick trip to Moscow last week to speak to his counterpart, Sergei Shoygu, on the same subject.
According to Haaretz, Israeli intelligence estimates that there are currently about 2,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers and advisors in Syria, along with 7,000 Hezbollah fighters and an additional 9,000 Shi’ite militiamen from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
For its part, Iran has flatly refused to budge from Syria, citing the fact they were invited by President Bashar Assad to assist in the Syrian civil war, and saying that they would only leave if asked to do so – something Assad has not done.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been heavily involved in the negotiations with Syria’s ally Russia. He has talked both in person and on the phone numerous times with President Putin about Israel’s red lines in Syria, and there have been steady reports that Russia is inclined to take Israel’s concerns seriously, but only only to safeguard the Assad government’s gains taking back a large portion of Syrian territory.
Ten days ago, the Russian foreign minister was quoted as saying that only Syrian government troops should be present on the country’s southern border.
In addition, Kan Israel News cited reports that in recent days Russia temporarily deployed military posts and police on the border between Syria and Lebanon. However, this reportedly caused tension because the move was made without coordinating first with Hezbollah, so the Russians were replaced by Syrian troops.
It is widely expected that a battle could erupt on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, as Assad is determined to regain the territory from various rebel groups that are currently in control there. Israel has already signaled its determination to prevent Iran from digging in its heels close to the Jewish state’s border.