Both Israeli Prime Minister and Iran top official in Moscow
Israel has carried out more airstrikes warning the Assad regime, while at the same time signalling that it is accepting Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-enabled hold on power.
The latest attacks by the Israeli Air Force, shortly after midnight on Wednesday, came hours after a regime drone was shot down in Israeli airspace. Three regime positions in the Quneitra region, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, were targeted.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported the launch of “a number of missiles at several army positions”. Following standard practice, SANA said air defenses downed the missiles, near the village of Hader.
The Israel Defense Forces later confirmed the strikes, saying it will “continue to act decisively and forcefully against attempts to violate Israeli sovereignty”. Video was released showing large explosions at the supposed targets.
#Pt. Aftermath of #Israel|i airstrikes in #Quneitra prov. Outpost flattened near #Hader & remains of bombs/missiles fired. No casualties reported. S. #Syria. https://t.co/HdkFO7PVtD pic.twitter.com/oicesgASej
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) July 12, 2018
The IDF claimed that the Syrian drone, apparently unarmed, passed over Jordan and through the demilitarized zone. It was downed over the Sea of Galilee by a Patriot anti-aircraft missile. Fragments, recovered south of the lake, indicated a reconnaissance mission.
An IDF spokesman said the nine-hour delay in retaliation was because of uncertainty if the Assad regime’s military or Russia was operating the drone.
Israel, which has cooperated with Russia since autumn 2015, has accepted Russian airstrikes enabled pro-Assad forces to take over Daraa Province in southern Syria. In another sign of the ongoing relationship, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Throughout the 88-month Syrian conflict, Israel has carried out periodic airstrikes inside the country. Initially, the attacks sought to prevent transfer of weapons and missiles to Hezbollah, another ally of the Assad regime, and to prevent movement of Hezbollah and Iranian forces into the area near the Golan Heights.
Since last autumn Israel has stepped up the strikes, as Netanyahu has warned against any long-term Iranian presence in Syria. There have been several sets of attacks including on Iranian positions, notably near Damascus and in the T4 airbase in Homs Province in central Syria. In April, the strikes were the largest on Syrian territory since the early 1980s, killing at least seven Iranian personnel at T4.
Earlier this week Israeli missiles were reportedly fired again on T4.
Netanyahu to Putin: Assad Can Stay
A “senior Israeli official” said Wednesday that Netanyahu told Putin of Israel’s acceptance of Assad in power.
At the same time, the Prime Minister reiterated that Moscow should encourage Iranian forces to withdraw from Syria.
The official summarized Netanyahu’s line:
They (Russia) have an active interest in seeing a stable Assad regime and we in getting the Iranians out. These can clash or it can align.
We won’t take action against the Assad regime.
Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes denied any statement to Putin, saying, “We don’t get involved in the civil war. We will act against anyone who acts against us.”
But the “senior Israeli official” further defined Netanyahu’s supposed position. He said Russia is working to distance Iranian forces from the area near the Golan Heights and had proposed that they be kept 80 km (50 miles) from the border. However, he said this was short of Israel’s demand for the complete departure of Iranian forces and Iranian-led foreign militias.
Israel warned, before the June 19 pro-Assad offensive on Daraa Province, that no Hezbollah or Iranian-led militia should be involved. Photographs indicated that some Iraqi militia were placed into the Assad regime’s military as Russia carried out airstrikes to enable the ground advance, but the Israeli military held back from any response.
Russian officials made no immediate comment about the issue.
An image of the intensity of the Russian strikes that led to the capitulation of the opposition in most of Daraa Province last week:
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) July 12, 2018
Top Iran Official Also in Moscow
Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow coincided with that of the top aide of Iran’s Supreme Leader, indicating that Russia is trying to broker an arrangement between the Israelis and Iranians over Syria.
Iranian media said that Ali Akbar Velayati delivered a message from President Hassan Rouhani to Putin on Thursday. No details of the content were published.
Iran’s outlets have portrayed the trip as Tehran’s pursuit of Russian support amid US withdrawal from the July 2015 nuclear deal and expanding American sanctions.
Russia is one of the 5+1 Powers — along with the US, Britain, France, Germany, and China — which negotiated the agreement. The Islamic Republic is trying to obtain trade and investment links as well as political support to salvage its economy as the US restrictions curb sectors such as Iran’s oil and gas exports.
Velayati said upon his arrival on Wednesday, “The current situation is very critical and the world is under the hegemony of a wayward person — the US President who defies international regulations. Therefore, it is necessary that the cooperation [between Iran and Russia] be increased.”
He vaguely referred to the Syrian conflict when he that cooperation in a “resistance front led by Iran and Russia” would defeat terrorism and its supporters in Syria and other regional countries.
Opposition Site: Turkey Gives Reassurance Over Idlib
The opposition site Nedaa Syria claims Turkish forces have reassured residents of opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria, following the regime’s takeover of Daraa Province in the south.
The site said one of the Turkish observation posts ringing the province, where about 2.5 million people live, sent the reassurance through local leaders and council heads.
Participants in the meeting said that Turkish message was that it is unlikley that Ankara’s forces will withdraw if the Assad regime and Iranian-supported militia attack, and that the Turkish leadership will seek to hold Russia to its commitment to a “de-escalation zone” — a commitment broken in Daraa and in East Ghouta near Damascus this spring.
The participants said, “The officials in the outpost stressed that Turkey was not a guarantor of the agreement to reduce the escalation in the province of Daraa, but it is different in the Idlib agreement, where Turkey is a party in and will not allow the violation. They indicated that it is not in Russia’s interest in breaking the agreement.”