Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be brokering a deal between Trump and Putin over Syria

It is rumoured that the US would lift Ukraine-related sanctions in exchange for pulling Iran out of Syria


Benjamin Netanyahu held his third meeting in six months with Vladimir Putin, hours before the Israeli Prime Minister watched England take on Croatia in the World Cup semi-final at Luzhniki Stadium.

Mr Netanyahu has long been urging the Russian President to agree to a plan where Iranian forces permanently leave Syria.

But with US President Donald Trump himself set to meet Mr Putin, a larger plan could possibly be in the works.

It is rumoured that — in exchange for a deal on Syria — Mr Trump could agree to lift the sanctions the United States placed on Russia following its invasion of eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, with Mr Netanyahu acting as a key intermediary.

Israel has been trying for over a year to persuade Mr Putin to pressure the Assad regime to remove Iranian Quds Force, Hezbollah and other Shia militias financed by Iran from Syria.

So far these efforts have yielded only an agreement for these Iranian-backed forces not to operate near the border with Israel in the Golan Heights.

And last week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that expecting Iran to leave Syria altogether was “unrealistic.”

Russia, which first deployed its forces to Syria in September 2015, has signalled ever since that it is interested in doing a deal with the west.

Originally, it was offering cooperation in the fight against Isis.

The Obama administration was opposed to any such deal. But now Mr Trump is in the White House, the threat of Isis receded and the US administration has reversed Mr Obama’s policy of seeking to engage diplomatically with Iran, the possibility of a deal with Russia has reopened.

According to a report last weekend in the New Yorker, a joint plan had been discreetly hatched between Israel and Saudi Arabia, where Mr Trump would offer Mr Putin to lift Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia in return for a deal on removing Iran entirely from Syria.

The view that Israel and the US can use different levers of pressure to persuade Russia to agree to “kick Iran out of Syria” is one that Israeli intelligence officials have been voicing increasingly often in recent months.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said in reference to his meeting with Mr Putin that “we will not tolerate military entrenchment by Iran and its proxies in any territory of Syria — not near the border and not far from it”, when briefing his cabinet about his upcoming meeting with Mr Putin.

He added that “we are of course in constant communication with the American administration.

“These contacts with the two big powers are very important for the security of Israel at all times, and especially at this time.”

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