Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says

Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn

Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces Valery Gerasimov at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 11, 2018
\ POOL/ REUTERS

Russia is working to ensure the removal of Iranian forces to 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Golan Heights, but Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn, a senior Israeli official said Monday after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Russian officials.  

The official said that Israel prefers to act now rather than wait until Iran has "hundreds and thousands of missiles" in Syria, and that the government will not allow Iran "to turn Syria into another Lebanon."

During the two-hour meeting, the parties discussed in great detail "the Iranian presence and Iranian activity in Syria," illustrated by maps and intelligence assessments, the official said.  

"The removal of Iran must include the removal of long-range weapons, halting the production of precision weapons as well as the air defenses that protect the missiles, and the closure of border crossing that permit smuggling of this weaponry to Lebanon and to Syria," said the official. "Russia has a certain ability to prevent this. They are a significant factor in Syria." 

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian military chief of staff, Gen. Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, were visitingIsrael at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. He said the two leaders recently spoke on the phone.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, military Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat and other senior officials also participated. 

Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting: "The link between us is extraordinarily important and it exists, as you have seen, in the direct meetings between myself and President Putin and between our staffs. I appreciated the words that were spoken by President Putin together with President Trump regarding the security of Israel during the recent summit."

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said that "Israel insists that the [1974] Separation of Forces Agreement between it and Syria be honored as it was in the decades before the outbreak of civil war in Syria, and that Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to establish a military presence in Syria."

He also praised "the strong position expressed yesterday by President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo against the aggression of the regime in Iran." The prime minister said that "Over the years, this regime has been spoiled by the major powers and it is good to see that the U.S. is changing this unacceptable equation."

In a tweet early Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump warned Iranian President Hassan Rohani not to threaten the United States or face the consequences, hours after Rouhani told Trump that hostile policies toward Tehran could lead to "the mother of all wars." 

In a late night Twitter message directed at Rohani, Trump warned him to "never, never, ever threaten the United States again" or "suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before." In an all-caps tweet, Trump added: "We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!" 

In a speech late on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced Iran's leaders as a "mafia" and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.