Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Moscow for more than viewing the World Cup tournament. He will meet with Vladimir Putin and it is a foregone conclusion that the Iranian presence in Syria is the main topic of their discussion. The meeting has drawn interest because it shortly precedes the July 16, 2018 summit between Donald Trump and Putin in Helsinki. On July 6, 2018, Henry Meyer published an article on Bloomberg.com stating that a deal was in the works in which Iran would be kept away from Israel's borders, and the U.S. would drop its demands for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's ouster. The Netanyahu visit and the Meyer article have provoked discussion in Russia on how to placate the Israelis and Trump without angering the Iranians, whose boots on the ground in Syria helped maintain Assad and limited the cost of Russia's interventions in Syria. Below are a few Russian comments on the issue and on the timing of the two meetings.
Solonnikov: Trump-Putin Meeting Will Build On Netanyahu-Putin Meeting
Egor Barentsev writing in the Federal News Agency (FAN) interviewed political scientist Dmitry Solonnikov reached the assessment that the two meetings are connected. Russia cannot simply lay down the law to Iran but must involve Iran in the negotiations.
"The presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and other elements in Syria is causing panic in Tel-Aviv and Washington. Initially, Israel demanded repelling those pro-Assad groups from its borders, but lately Tel-Aviv again went to extremes by announcing that it was totally unwilling to tolerate any Iranian presence in in this Arab republic. Confirmation [of this stance] came in the recent attack against the T-4 airbase in Homs province, which apparently failed due to the effective work of Syrian anti-aircraft activity. Washington in its turn also voices its concern regarding Iran's rise in the Middle East. Recently the US unilaterally nullified the nuclear deal with Iran and is currently preparing anti-Iranian sanctions. Simultaneously, the Americans are exerting a serious pressure on their allies, demanding from them to act alike.
"Dmitry Solonnikov, political expert, and director of the Institute of Contemporary Development said in an interview to FAN's correspondent that Iranian issue will quite likely be raised during both upcoming meetings at the presidential level. Yet, according to him, for Tel Aviv this issue is far more important. It is most likely that Putin-Netanyahu's meeting on July 11 will define the deliberations on the issue during Putin-Trump meeting a few days later on July 16.
Dmitry Solonnikov (Source Abnews.ru)
"Undoubtedly, Iran will be the leading concern during Russian and Israeli leaders' meeting. What agreements are possible in this context? Full withdrawal of Iranian forces form Syria – definitely not, though this is exactly what official Tel Aviv periodically demands. Possibly, they [the leaders] will discuss the question of establishing more or less demilitarized zone in Syria's south, close to the Israeli borders, and the modality of monitoring this zone : what frameworks will serve as guarantors, which units may be deployed there, what is the depth of that zone. In this shape the question is negotiable it would be a normal negotiating process", said Solonnikov.
He added that in order to achieve a final settlement of the issue all sides should be involved. There is a need to get to a decision which will satisfy interests of all the participants – that's instead of Tel-Aviv's demand to implement only its own interests.
"There is a need to hold meetings not only with Russia. Moscow ,without a doubt, has a great deal of leverage on the situation in Syria, but yet there will be a need to negotiate with the immediate of official Damascus and Tehran. Then, it might be possible to reach a joint decision, satisfactory to all the sides. The full withdrawal of Iranian forces that Israeli politicians speak of, is currently unfeasible. If Tel Aviv sets such awkward conditions, then the negotiations will end up with nothing", said the expert.
"Regarding the upcoming meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in [Helsinki], Finland's capital, the discussion of the Iranian issue will build upon the results of the July 11th meeting. Yet, except for Iran, the Putin-Trump meeting will deal with other issues even in the course of the discussion on Syria, thinks Solonnikov.
"The pro-Iranian militias' presence in Syria will be but a secondary derivative from general Syrian agenda issues which will be taken up first. There are other sore points such as the forces presence in Syria. Anyway, the sides will establish their positions on Tehran, while the further discussion will be based on the results of Putin-Netanyahu's meeting, where the issue will be more acute", said the expert.
'Kommersant: Putin's One Concession To Israel Is To Ignore Its Attacks On Iranian Targets
Writing in Kommersant, Marianna Belenkaya concurs that the "visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu obtains particular importance in the context of the forthcoming Russo-American summit at Helsinki. The U.S. demand that pro-Iranian forces abandon Syria coincides with the Israeli position.
Belenkaya warns that both Israel and the U.S. will be disappointed by the U.S. reaction. "Russian official persons have repeatedly let it be be understood that Moscow will not pressure Iran and does not wish to quarrel with its partner to a Syrian settlement. The one concession to Israel that Russia can allow itself is not to react when Israel strikes military targets in Syria that it considers to be Iranian. Russia will likewise continue its dialogue with the Israelis on tactical issues. Among these is the forthcoming Syrian army operation to establish control over the Al-Quneitra province that adjoins the Israeli occupied Golan Heights."
Peskov: Iranian Forces In Syria Will Not Feature In The Talks
Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov sought to dampen speculation that Russia would discuss curbing the Iranian presence in Syria. It was unrealistic to expect that Russia and the U.S. could decide the fate of the third one.
"In this particular case, either Kommersant’s or Bloomberg’s sources failed them. That’s what I can answer," he said when asked to confirm information provided by some sources who said that agreements on the withdrawal of the Iran-backed forces from Syria could be the key issue at the upcoming meeting between the Russian and US leaders.
The Kremlin spokesman noted though "that the Syrian issue will be a topic to exchange views on." "That’s certainly easy to foretell. At any rate, the Russian side is getting ready, and Putin is prepared to discuss the topic of Syria. However, when reports [surface] that two countries are discussing a third country and are making some decisions for it - that’s highly unrealistic," Peskov said. "That’s why these reports are not true."