Russia seeks to take mediator role between Israel and Iran

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that "all issues should be solved through dialogue." (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018

Russia seeks to take mediator role between Israel and Iran

MOSCOW: Following Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, Russia has positioned itself as a mediator between the Middle Eastern rivals as it has maintained good relations with both countries.
“The Kremlin is sitting on two chairs,” Russian analyst Alexei Malashenko told AFP.
“It is a complex and difficult situation for Russia that has links with both of the sworn enemies.”
Israel carried out raids on dozens of Iranian military targets on Thursday after it said around 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Russia was quick to call for restraint, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Thursday that “all issues should be solved through dialogue.”
He added that Russia had warned Israel to avoid “all actions that could be seen as provocative” the day before the strikes, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said relations between Putin and Netanyahu were “very good” and that the meeting, on the eve of the strikes, showed Russia could play a major role in the Israel-Iran dispute.
“Moscow could use its good relations with the two countries to help them communicate and make sure confrontation does not exceed certain limits,” Lukyanov said.
Russia has become a major player in the Middle East since intervening in the Syrian war on the side of the Damascus regime in September 2015. Analysts also highlight its role as mediator in other conflicts in the area.
“The role of Russia as a mediator is strongly appreciated in the region. This role will be reinforced if the crisis between Israel and Iran worses,” said Alexander Krylov, a foreign policy expert at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Krylov told AFP that Russia’s “additional value” is that it has good relations with forces that other actors refuse to speak to such as with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Kurds.
Russia’s good ties to Israel were demonstrated by Netanyahu’s visit, he said.
“I do not rule out the idea that Israel gave some clues to Russia about the strikes,” Krylov said.
But even if Russia considers Israel’s security concerns over Iran legitimate, Lukyanov said, it sees Iran as an “indispensable partner on many issues, especially in Syria.”
Russia, Iran and Turkey regularly meet to discuss the regulation of the Syrian war, where the three countries have positioned themselves as major players.
Unlike Turkey, Iran and Moscow are unflinching allies of the Bashar Assad regime and often maintain a united diplomatic front.
Analyst Alexei Malashenko said Russia would do everything possible to maintain relations with both Israel and Iran without taking a stand, especially since Israel’s strikes “do not threaten” Moscow’s position in Syria.
“If Israel were to defy Russia’s dominant role, Russia would react and take a stand. This is unlikely to happen because Israel knows Russia defines the rules in Syria,” said Lukyanov.
But if escalation continues, Moscow will find it difficult to keep playing a mediator’s role.
“Even with the best intention, nobody can bring Iran and Israel to the same table,” said Malashenko.
He added that Russia is also closely watching Washington’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which the Kremlin has opposed. On Thursday Moscow said it would continue a “close collaboration” with Iran on the agreement.
Lukyanov said it may not have been coincidental that the Israeli strikes took place shortly after US President Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the deal.
“Iran’s enemies can only be inspired by this decision: there is a very strong anti-Iranian sentiment,” Lukyanov said. “Increased US pressure on Iran has certainly helped Israel fulfill its agenda.”


New Zealand volcano eruption death toll rises to 18 as body search continues

Updated 43 sec ago

New Zealand volcano eruption death toll rises to 18 as body search continues

  • A land search early Sunday failed to find any sign of bodies and divers returned to the sea in the afternoon
  • Disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels
WELLINGTON: The death toll from New Zealand’s White Island volcano eruption rose to 18 Sunday, including two people whose bodies have not been recovered, police said.
A land search early Sunday failed to find any sign of the missing pair and divers returned to the sea in the afternoon amid increasing speculation both could be in the water.
Deputy police commissioner Mike Clement said there was “every chance” the bodies had been washed into the sea from the stream where they were last seen Monday.
He added that searchers were “satisfied that the area we searched near the jetty is clear of the bodies.”
“The rescue teams are frustrated. We understand completely how frustrating it is for loved ones who want the bodies back,” Clement said.
Forty-seven people were on the island — a popular tourist attraction — when the explosion happened.
The death toll now stands at 18 after an Australian victim who had been repatriated to Sydney died in hospital almost a week after the deadly eruption.
Another 26 survivors remain in New Zealand and Australian hospitals, of which 20 are listed as “critical” and fighting for their lives after the eruption on the desolate island, which is the country’s most active volcano.
The family of the latest victim have requested his name and age not be released.
Police on Sunday named seven victims who have been officially identified including New Zealand tour guide Tipene James Te Rangi Ataahua Maangi, 24.
Four were Australians — Zoe Ella Hosking, 15, her stepfather Gavin Brian Dallow, 53, 51-year-old Anthony James Langford and Karla Michelle Mathews, 32 — along with Matthew Robert Hollander, 13 and Berend Lawrence Hollander, 16, who were US citizens with Australian permanent residency.
Clement said although the land and sea searches had so far been unsuccessful in finding the remaining bodies, police had not given up hope.
“There will come a time when we’ve done everything we can do, when we’ve done everything that’s sensible but we’re not there yet... we don’t give up easily,” he said.
Scientists monitoring White Island said there had been no further significant activity since last Monday’s eruption but the risk remained.
A glow was visible from the vent area overnight “which confirms there is a high heat flow present,” said Geoff Kilgour, a volcanologist with GNS Science, which monitors seismic and volcanic activity in New Zealand.
“This has been confirmed today by an aerial observation this morning that noted an active crater is emitting volcanic gas at a high rate and very high temperature” above 200 Celsius.
The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels.