Israel continues misinformation campaign on Iranian presence in Syria

While Israeli media continues to put forward claims about Russia agreeing to limit Iranian military influence in Syria, analysts have pointed out that Iran is in the country at the invitation of the Syrian government

July 26, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
Israeli media has kept reporting that Russia has accepted keeping Iranian forces at a distance in Syria although all evidence points to the contrary. A photo of the meeting between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Photo: Hawar News Agency

After two false campaigns that Russia had agreed to push Iranian forces in Syria away from the Israeli border, Israel seems to have launched a third one on July 24, repeating the same claim. Quoting a “senior political source” – who supposedly participated in a meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov – Israel national news claimed that Russia had offered to keep Iranian forces 100 kilometers away from the Israeli border, while the Israeli PM rebuffed Russia, insisting on nothing less than a full withdrawal of Iranian forces and militias from Syria.

The unnamed official is quoted to have said, “It was made clear again that we would not accept Iranian consolidation in Syria, not near the border, and not in the 100-kilometer strip that the Russians are talking about and committing to.” Pointing out that this commitment of Russia would imply that it will have to ask Iran to keep out of the capital city Damascus, which is 50 kilometers from the Golan Heights occupied by Israel, a report in Moon of Alabama termed this claim “nonsense” and argued that “Russia most likely never made” such an offer to Israel.

Iran is present in Syria legally, at the request of the latter, in order to defend its ally. Russia is not in a position to dictate to Iran, even by US intelligence’s own assessment. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, has said, “We have assessed that it’s unlikely Russia has the will or the capability to fully implement and counter Iranian decisions and influence.”

Further, the news report also claimed that Israel had insisted before its Russian counterpart that while, Israel retains “full freedom” to send its armed forces to operate inside Syria, it had demanded that all long-range weapons of Iran be removed from Syria, and “the production of precision weapons is stopped, strategic arms defense is removed and the border crossings that allow weapons smuggling on the Syrian border Lebanon and the Iraq-Lebanon border are closed.” Multiple news agencies carried similar reports citing the same Israeli official.

However, after the Russian Foreign Minister and Chief of Staff returned back to Russia yesterday, a report in the Russian news agency TASS, quoting a Russian military-diplomatic source, pointed out that what was discussed in the meeting with the Israeli PM were the “tasks of completing anti-terrorist operations in Syria’s south.” No reference is made in this report to Iran.

Previously, the Russian Foreign Minister’s call in May this year for all “non-Syrian” troops – including those of the US, Jordan and other middle-eastern forces operating in the region – to pull away from the Israeli border was falsely reported by Israeli media as an instance of Russia calling on Iran to withdraw its troops.

Two days ago, Russia also criticized Israel’s adoption of the basic nation-state law that sets ground for constitutionally-mandated apartheid, with Foreign Ministry official Artyom Kozhin saying that such measures “do nothing but hinder peace, foment tensions on the ground, and considerably complicate efforts directed at launching as soon as possible a meaningful peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”