Israeli Defense Chief in Moscow: We Appreciate Russia's Understanding of Our Security Needs

Israel's defense minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow, discussing Iran's presence in Syria and the possibility of deploying Russian troops there

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Moscow meeting Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shvigo on  May 31, 2018.
Ariel Harmony / Ministry of Defense

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the tensions between Israel and the Iranian forces in Syria.

"The state of Israel appreciates Russia's understanding of our security concerns, particularly regarding the situation at our northern border," Lieberman wrote on Twitter after the meeting. "We'll continue our dialogue with Russia on every matter at hand."

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According to the ministry of defense, the meeting with Shoigu took place in Moscow and lasted over an hour and a half. The meeting dealt with matters of security between the two countries, particularly regarding the situation in Syria and Israel's attempt to prevent Iranian consolidation in there.

Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to recapture parts of Syria along the Israeli border, while Israel is concerned that this would allow Hezbollah and other Iranian troops to reestablish themselves in the area. According to reports from Moscow, Moscow wants to arrange an agreement in which Russian military police will be stationed In Syria near the Israeli border and Iranian troops will be pulled back from the area.

"In the latest Israeli attacks, dozens of Syrians were killed and injured – but not a single Iranian was hurt," Assad said in an interview to RT in Damascus Thursday morning, rejecting claims that there is an Iranian military residence in the region. "We have no Iranian soldiers here, and we never have. There are only officers who work together with the Syrian military.

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."

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.