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EXCLUSIVE: Putin targets arrangement for Israel and Iran in Syria

The Russian president hopes to get both Tehran and Jerusalem to agree to a new formula

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to find a formula for the post-war power-balance in Syria with which both Israel and Iran can agree. According to well-informed sources in Moscow, Mr Putin wants to keep good relations with Jerusalem and Tehran and “is not prepared to drop either”.

The Iranians have been an integral part in the Russian plan to preserve the Assad regime – they provided the “boots on the ground” in the shape of thousands of Hezbollah fighters and tens of thousands of Shi’a militia members recruited for as far away as Afghanistan. Mr Putin not only recognises this, he also knows that there may still be need of the Iranian proxies to keep Assad in power.

On the other hand, the Russian President is aware that of all the players in the region, Israel has the greatest capabilities to ruin his plans in Syria and make life intolerable for Mr Assad and his supporters. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear to his Russian counterpart that Israel has no interest in jeopardising the Assad regime and would be satisfied if it were to restore some calm to the war-torn country. However Israel will not agree to Syria becoming a forward base for Iran. 

In recent years, Mr Netanyahu has built a rapport with the Russian president and the Russians have not responded or condemned Israel’s latest attacks on Hezbollah weapons convoys and depots within Syria, even when those took place near Russian bases and air-defence batteries.

According to sources in Moscow, Mr Putin is trying to reach an agreement whereby no state will be able to use Syria as a platform for attacking Syria’s neighbours. Such a formula would allow Iran to establish some form of presence in Syria but Mr Putin hopes to allay Israeli fears that Iranian bases would threaten Israel. It is a formula that is unlikely to satisfy Mr Netanyahu who has defined the establishment of such bases as “a strategic threat” to Israel.

There are those in the Israeli intelligence community who believe that a wedge can still be driven between Russia and Iran. While the two countries have cooperated in saving the Assad regime, the Russian empire and Persia are historical rivals whose current interests do not necessarily converge.

One sign of discord between Moscow and Tehran is use of the Mediterranean port at Tartous. Russia has been trying for months to sign a deal with Mr Assad for exclusive long-term use the port, but Mr Assad is coming under pressure from Iranian leaders, who also demand access.The Russians do not trust their erstwhile Iranian allies enough to share a military port with them.

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