As the conflict in Syria is entering into its final phase, the role of Moscow as a player that can mediate between the different sides allowing them to find a way to de-escalate tensions has grown further.
On July 11-12, Russian President Vladimir Putin held separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Foreign Policy Adviser Ali Akbar Velayati.
In both cases, the situation in the Middle East, including the ongoing conflcit in Syria, was top of the agenda.
Netanyahu met with Putin on July 11 asking Russia to help to remove Iranian forces from Syria or at least to pull them back from the Syrian-Israeli contact line.
“It is well-known for you – our focus is what is going on in Syria and Iran,” the Israeli prime minister told the Russian president as they headed into their meeting. “Iran needs to leave Syria — that is not something new for you.”
During the meenting, Putin was joined by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other top aides. PM’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israeli ambassador to Russia Gary Koren and the PM’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz were accompanying Netanyahu.
According to an anonymous Israeli official cited by the media, Netanyahu allegedly said during the meeting that Tel Aviv does not intend to threaten Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria but wants Russian assistance to remove “Iranian forces” from southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied territories.
“Our bilateral relations are developing rather positively,” Putin said during the meeting with the Israeli prime minister. “It concerns our cooperation not just in the sphere of economy, but in the political area as well. Relations between the defense departments are at a high level as well.”
On July 12, Putin received Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Foreign Policy Adviser in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence. The meeting also involved Foreign Minister Lavrov and head of the Supreme Leader’s board of advisers Ali Asghar Fathi Sarbangoli and Iran’s Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai.
Ali Akbar Velayati submited messages from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. The sides also discussed the situation in Syria and the Middle East in general.
Speaking to reporters upon arrival in Moscow on July 11, Velayati described the Russian-Iranian relations as “strategic”, expressing hope that his visit would boost the tiees further. He added that the Iranian-Russian cooperation over the conflict in Syria is an indication of the exemplary, strategic and long-term partnership between the countries.
Some experts described the recent meetings in Moscow as a indication of ongoing indirect talks between Iran and Israel ongoing with aissistance from Russia. These talks already allowed to at least partly de-escalate the situation in southern Syria. The recent strikes on targets in Syria by the Israeli side were more a PR stunt and the continuation of the general appraoch of Tel Aviv than a sign of nearing full-scale military escalation.
In this situation, the continued talks between the sides may allow the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance to finish its military operation in southern Syria without getting involved in any large-scale military incidents, like one after the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018, for example.