Israel, seeking total withdrawal, rejects Russian offer to keep Iranian forces in Syria 60 miles away

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018. (Office of the President of Russia)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel rejected a Russian offer to keep Iranian forces in Syria some 60 miles from the border with Israel.

Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Iran leave the country completely, an unnamed senior Israeli official told reporters on Monday July 23 following a meeting in Jerusalem between Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Netanyahu also demanded that all long-range missiles that could reach Israeli territory be removed from Syria, the Israeli official said during a briefing, according to Israeli reports.

Israel is concerned that Iran will stockpile “hundreds and thousands of missiles” in Syria.  “Iran wants to turn Syria into a second Lebanon. And we’re determined to prevent that,” 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, according to Haaretz. “Russia has a certain ability to prevent this. They are a significant factor in Syria.”

The official said that the two-hour discussion “was a very important meeting at a significant time, during which we delved into many details, produced maps and shared intelligence, and explained in great detail our policy.”

The Russian delegation that came to Jerusalem on Monday also included Russian Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday that the Russia delegation was in Israel “at the request of President Putin, in a conversation he had with me a few days ago.”

Also at the meeting were Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office: “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.”

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