Russia ‘should intervene’ between Israel and Iran-backed militias in Syria

A man gestures as smoke rises after an airstrike in the besieged town of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 08 February 2018

Russia ‘should intervene’ between Israel and Iran-backed militias in Syria

AMMAN: Russia should intervene to prevent Syria’s war escalating into a new phase that sets Israel and militias allied with Iran “on a collision course”.

The call was made by the International Crisis Group in a report published Thursday that warned that an even broader war could be one miscalculation away.

The animosity between Iran and Israel has increasingly translated into violence on Syria’s complex battlefield with Israel targeting Iranian efforts to establish a permanent presence in Syria.

The report, “Israel, Hizbollah and Iran: Preventing a New War in Syria”, says Russia, one of the Bashar Al Assad’s most important supporters “is the only power in Syria in a position to broker a new understanding that reduces the risk of a larger confrontation.”

A “new phase in Syria’s war has set Israel and militias allied with Iran on a collision course,” the report says.

Having seized back territory in south-west Syria last month, Assad forces and their Iranian backed allies might soon reclaim much of the area up to Israel’s disputed border, the Brussels based group said.

“The fear of Iran-backed militias digging in close to Israel’s borders is decreasing Israel's willingness to remain a bystander. An uptick in Israeli airstrikes on arms convoys and other targets in Syria suggests incremental escalation is already occurring.”

Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst with Crisis Group, told Arab News that Iran seems intent on establishing a permanent military presence in Syria.

“Syria of course is a neighbor of Israel and this development could affect the next war dramatically.”

Israel has attacked arms production facilities near Damascus three times.

“The first two of the three sites were said to be Iranian, said Zalzberg. The third one, attacked on Wednesday, is “said to have been producing chemical weapons.”

Zalzberg told Arab News that a political solution is needed.

“We don't share the view that Iran has to leave Syria all together. We suggest Iran stays politically and economically involved in Syria but that it should not have a permanent military presence.”

The Crisis Group analyst suggested that Russia brokers a deal within which Israel will acquiesce to Iran’s influence in Damascus and will come to terms with the Syrian state’s symbolic return to south-western Syria, where the first protests of the 2011 uprising began.

But the Russians are finding it increasingly hard to balance between Iran and Israel, Zalzberg said.

The report said the tensions with Israel are particularly precarious because the “rules of the game” will probably be worked out through attack and response, risking a wider war.

Russia should be particularly invested in mediating between Israel and Iran because a conflict between them risks undermining Russia’s policy achievements in Syria, including strengthening the position of Assad.

On Wednesday, Syrian air defense systems intercepted an Israeli air attack on a military position near Damascus, the Syria military said.

“This morning, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles from Lebanese airspace on one of our military positions in the Damascus countryside,” said an army statement. “Our air defense systems blocked them and destroyed most of them.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least some Israeli missiles hit military targets near Damascus.

“Syria’s air defense system blocked some of the missiles, but others hit ammunition depots near Jamraya,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Syrian armed forces and their allies since the civil war broke out there in 2011.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday with his security cabinet and top Israeli army officials.

“We seek peace but are prepared for any scenario and I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they test us,” Netanyahu said during the visit.


Pressure grows in US for firm response to Iran after Aramco attacks 

Updated 27 min 22 sec ago

Pressure grows in US for firm response to Iran after Aramco attacks 

  • Senator Lindsey Graham urges retaliatory strikes on Iranian oilfields if Tehran continues ‘provocations’
  • UN Secretary General urged for calm and called on both sides to ‘exercise restraint’

WASHINGTON: An American senator has called for Washington to consider an attack on Iranian oil facilities as pressure grows in the US for a firm response to the Saudi Aramco strikes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the drone attacks on Saturday against the Abqaiq oil processing plant and the Khurais oil field. He also suggested that unlike previous drone and missile attacks on the Kingdom, this one may not have been launched from Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthis. Reports have said that the attack may have originated in Iraq where Iran also holds sway over a large number of powerful militias.

“It is now time for the US to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator close to Donald Trump, said on Twitter.

“Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back.”

Iran on Sunday denied it was behind the attack, but the Yemeni Houthi militia backed by Tehran, claimed they had launched them. 

The White House on Sunday did not rule out a potential meeting between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, even after Washington accused Iran of being behind drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said the attacks “did not help” prospects for a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly this month but she left open the possibility it could happen.

"You're not helping your case much," by attacking Saudi Arabia, civilian areas and critical infrastructure that affects global energy markets.” Conway told the Fox News Sunday program.

The Trump administration's sanctions and “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program will continue whether or not the two leaders meet, she added.

The US ramped up pressure on Iran last year after trump withdrew from an international pact to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Washington has reimposed a tough sanctions regime on Tehran, which it accuses of hiding behind the nuclear deal to advance its missiles program and aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, condemnation of the attacks continued from around the world.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent any escalation.

UK foreign minister Dominic Raab said the attack was a “reckless attempt to damage regional security and disrupt global oil supplies.”

The European Union warned of a “real threat to regional security” in the Middle East.

*With Reuters