Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will leave on Wednesday for a short visit to Russia. He is scheduled to meet with his counterpart, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shvigo, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. Lieberman is expected to discuss with his hosts the recent events in the Middle East, primarily the tension between Israel and Iran over the Iranian military presence in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country's southern border. This was perceived as a hint that Russia was inclined to accept Israel's demand - distancing the Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Monday that "there is no room for any Iranian military presence in any part of Syria."
Meanwhile, Lieberman said that "these things, of course, reflect not only our position, I can safely say that they reflect the positions of others in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East."
- Russia Says Only Syrian Army Should Be on Country's Southern Border
- Russia Mulls Pulling Back Iranian Forces From Israel-Syria Border
- U.S. Warns Syrian Government Not to Advance on South
Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
The superpowers, however, did not comply with the demand; the agreement stipulated that the Iranians and militias would remain about five kilometers from the lines of contact between the regime and the rebels, around five to 20 kilometers from the Israeli border.
On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Israeli political and military officials believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border, according to Israeli officials.
The change in Russia’s position has become clearer since Israel’s May 10 military clash with Iran in Syria and amid Moscow’s concerns that further Israeli moves would threaten the stability of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.