Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu allegedly told Israel that Moscow has agreed to support a buffer zone along the Israeli-Syrian border, where Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to enter, on October 18, Asharq Al-Awsat reports.
According to Al-Awsat, Russia had refused the Israeli request for a 40 kilometers (25 miles) buffer zone, but expressed willingness to extend a 10-15 kilometer off-limits zone.
The report has not been confirmed by any Israeli or Russian official sources. However, it was widely spreaded in the Israeli media and their Western counterparts.
Russia, which views Tehran as a key player in resolving the crisis in Syria, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the role Iran plays in the war-torn country. As the war in Syria seems to be winding down in Assad’s favor due to Russia’s intervention, Israel fears that Iran will aid Hezbollah to strengthen their foothold in Syria, including in Golan Heights.
Hours before Shoygu landed in Israel, Israeli fighter jets attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft missile battery stationed some 50 kilometers east of Damascus which had allegedly fired on Israeli planes in Lebanese airspace earlier that morning. While Russia was updated about the incident in real time, the incident overshadowed the meeting and caused some tension between the officials. Shoygu allegedly considered it a “dangerous hostile operation that almost caused a severe crisis.” Still, this did not stop the negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly criticized a US-Russian cease-fire deal in South Syria, saying that it does not include any provisions to stop Iranian expansion in the area.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders. Shoygu told Israeli officials that the 40 km demand was unrealistic and that Iranian and Hezbollah troops have not approached the border since Russian troops entered Syria, saying that therefore the request was “exaggerated” and “superfluous.”
At the same time, Isael and Israeli-linked media have been conducting a large-scale media campaign aimed to show that Russia, Iran and Syria may have some unsolved differences and Moscow may support Tel Aviv over its actions in Syria. Unfortunately for Israel, this campaign has little common with the real military and diplomatci situation in the region.
Constant ineffective attempts of Israeli leadership to achieve a public Russian support over the issue are only one of the problems faced by Tel Aviv. So, fake news about the Russian support to a long-awaited Israeli “buffer zone” could be seen by some Israeli diplomats as a useful tool to save the face.
Even if the allegations are confirmed, the extension of the buffer zone is insignificant in the grand picture of things. Israel has asked Russia numerous times to interfere with Iran in order to decrease the Tehran’s influence in the region. Tel Aviv wants to be invited to the US-Russia negotiations regarding the post-ISIS future of the region, although this doesn’t seem likely to happen given the latest developments. Even if Moscow was willing to help Tel Aviv, it’s already cast it lot with Damascus and Tehran, and the interests of the three powers intertwine.