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An Israeli soldier guides a mobile artillery piece near the border with Syria in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, July 25, 2018 (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

The Limits of Cooperation Between Russia and Israel Over Iran’s Foothold in Syria

Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a surprise visit to Israel last week for talks about Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. The negotiations came amid heightened tensions along Syria’s southern border with Israel, where the Assad regime’s recent offensive to retake lost territory from rebels renewed conflict in an area that had been protected by a 2017 cease-fire agreement guaranteed by Russia, Jordan and the United States. The fighting raises concerns about the proximity of Iranian-backed forces, including Hezbollah, to northern Israel. In response to this threat, Israel launched a series of attacks on Iranian targets within Syria, including the bombing of a military site used by Iranians to manufacture missiles.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will continue to act against Iran’s interests in the region, and said he would even accept Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s continued hold on power if Russia can “get the Iranians out.” The day after Israeli-Russian talks began, however, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet it said was violating its airspace, drawing condemnation from the Assad regime and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The episode highlights the risk of spiraling escalation in this small stretch of territory, and the divergent goals of Russia and Israel in Syria, where Iran could be the spoiler for any potential long-term cooperation. ...

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