Russia assured Israel a few weeks ago that it has not transferred and will not transfer arms to Hezbollah in the course of its military operations in Syria, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday. Ambassador Zvi Heifetz’s remarks were reported to Haaretz by several MKs who attended the meeting.
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Heifetz, who took up his post several months ago, is currently in Israel to attend the Foreign Ministry’s annual conference of ambassadors. Heifetz is the first ambassador in years to personally brief the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the state of Israel’s relations with the country in which he serves.
The lawmakers, who asked to remain anonymous because the committee meeting was classified, said Heifetz told the panel that Moscow’s promise was sparked by an international media report a few weeks ago asserting that Russia was supplying arms to Hezbollah as part of its ongoing operations in Syria, where it is working in conjunction with Iran and the Assad regime.
The media report in question appeared in the Daily Beast and it quoted Hezbollah commanders as saying the Russians were giving Hezbollah surface-to-surface missiles, laser-guided rockets and Russian-made antitank missiles. The commanders also said that Russia had placed no conditions on the weapons’ use. Moreover, the report said, Russia had asked Hezbollah to guard its arsenals in Syria, thereby giving Hezbollah access to all the weapons stored there.
Heifetz stressed before the MKs that in wake of the report the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv reached out to senior officials in Israel's Foreign Minister on his own initiative and said the reports were baseless. The Russian ambassador stressed that the Russian government conducted an internal investigation of the issue and it verified that no arms were passed from Russian troops in Syria to Hezbollah.
Heifetz told the lawmakers that Russian-Israeli relations are currently flourishing in an unprecedented manner. Inter alia, he noted that there are ongoing bilateral consultations by governmental officials about the situation in Syria.
"There’s an open line between us and the Russians at every level,” the MKs quoted Heifetz as saying. “We made our red lines regarding Syria and the involvement by Iran and Hezbollah clear to the Russians, and when we have any concerns, we discuss them."
The ambassador also told the committee members that Russia’s involvement in Syria stems from Russian interests, rather than a personal alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The Russian view is that Assad creates stability, and therefore, they want to bolster him,” the MKs quoted Heifetz as saying. “Assad currently serves Russia’s interests, but not at any price."
He added that a recent visit to Israel and other countries in the region by Putin’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, first reported by Haaretz, shows that Russia is looking for a way to resolve the Syrian crisis and doesn’t want to maintain its massive military presence in Syria over the long run.
Some MKs asked during the meeting why Israel hasn’t taken any public stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but is instead maintaining a policy of ambiguity. Heifetz responded that Israel opted for a balanced policy on the Russia-Ukraine crisis primarily due to fear of causing harm to one or the other of the two countries’ large Jewish communities.
“We don’t have to thrust ourselves into every conflict,” the MKs quoted Heifetz as saying. “There are sensitivities, and we need to act wisely."