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Russians to Israel over Syria: We are obliged

According to the Russians, all parties in the region are trying to re-reposition themselves in anticipation of an agreement to end the war in Syria.

This is an important development that draws and re-arranges the situations, perhaps for the worst or the best. We do not know yet.

One of the most important developments is Israel’s place and engagement in the equation.

The Israelis are key players in what they call their “security zones” in adjacent countries even if they do not express their opinions and desires overtly and blatantly.

We would like to know what happened in Moscow during the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Russian leaders, particularly Vladimir Putin. Syria was the main issue, according to statements by both sides.

Netanyahu is not opposed to an agreement between the warring Syrian parties, according to the Russian plan in favor of Bashar Assad’s staying in power and granting the opposition limited powers. This seems to be the best scenario — a weak regime and an exhausted opposition.

Sources close to Netanyahu say he traveled to Moscow in order to “extract” a pledge from his “friend” Putin to “undermine” the Iranian and Hezbollah presence in addition to other pro-Tehran militias in Syria. It is likely that the word “undermine” here means to impose a peace agreement forcing the Iranians to leave Syria.

The “bewildering” response from Putin to Netanyahu, according to the source, is this: “Moscow cannot show itself in any way agreeing with Israel on the need to undermine the Iranian presence and influence in Syria at the moment. This is because Moscow sees there is still a “need” for an Iranian role in Syria until the war against Daesh is over or until a political solution in Syria is reached.”

We do know, however, that future promises at such basic stages of making agreements are often unreliable as well as unattainable.

Moscow vows it would reduce the presence of Iran and its allies later, but the accomplishment of such a promise requires explicit international guarantees.

Syrian forces entered Lebanon in 1967 under the pretext of stopping the war but did not leave the country until 2005 after the assassination of a number of Lebanese leaders, including Rafik Al-Hariri.

Syria has remained as an occupying force in Lebanon for 38 years and it is similarly likely that Iran will remain as an occupying force in Syria for a long time to come.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Syria has remained as an occupying force in Lebanon for 38 years and it is similarly likely that Iran will remain as an occupying force in Syria for a long time to come.

The source revealed that Moscow expects Israel to accept the Russian proposal on the basis that Moscow has already helped Israel and provided it with intelligence coordinates to carry out strikes against Hezbollah in Syria. This is seen as a “Russian deposit of bona fide toward Israel.” It upholds the reports that the Russians handed Israel the coordinates of Emad Moghnieh’s son in order to assassinate him.

It seems that Moscow limits Israel to the sole option of accepting the Iranian presence in Syria under the pretext it needs it or in fact, cannot challenge it.

The source enunciated that “Moscow does not oppose Israel’s intention to weaken Hezbollah’s role in Syria through letting it strike Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that Moscow would not oppose any possible Israeli attack against it.”

Here we cannot assume that Israel will eradicate Hezbollah from Lebanon, but that it simply wants to weaken it because of its strength.

The Russians believe that a major attack will push Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and focus on a possible Israeli attack against it in Lebanon.

This explains the return of Israeli threats to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The aim is to weaken it through depleting its missile ammunition in a war dominated by Israel. According to the view of the Russians and Israelis, this will weaken the presence of the Iranians in Damascus.

My view is that foreign directed operations in Syria will lead to more tension and will expand the unrest.

Without obliging Iran and its allies to leave Syria as a condition for ending the war, there is little hope of an end one way or another.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.