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Analysis: Israel zigzags on Iranian bases in Syria to give Russia room

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The hidden cost of flying and buying abroad >
Report: Trump to recognize Jerusalem as capital, staff to prepare embassy move

By Seth J. Frantzman
November 30, 2017 01:06
Jerusalem may be eyeing different redlines in Syria in hopes Moscow's message to Assad will reduce Iran's presence. 4 minute read.



FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zari

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran attend a news conference in Moscow in April.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On November 10 the BBC revealed that Iran is building a "permanent military base in Syria." The report came complete with aerial photos, yellow boxes and labels. It stressed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Iran against such a permanent presence.

Then, during an interview published Tuesday on Ynet, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that there is no physical Iranian presence in Syria. Liberman appeared to downplay the warnings from the prime minister, President Reuven Rivlin and others, asserting that the Iranian presence is relatively modest and consists of hundreds of experts and advisers.

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The comments by Liberman come amid reports in the Kuwaiti Arabic newspaper al-Jarida that Netanyahu sent a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad via Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Iranian forces 40 kilometers from the border. Allegedly, this took place during Putin's meeting with Assad on November 21, when the Syrian president hugged Putin and thanked him "for all the efforts that Russia made to save our country."

Liberman chose his words carefully during the Ynet interview, speaking deliberately.

"Iran is not on our border," he said, when pressed about his comment that "we don't just speak," implying that Israel also acts to defend its interests, and that all the "players" know Israel is a strong power in the region.

On the one hand, his comment could be seen as his response to feeling accused of not preventing Iran from establishing itself in Syria. But why downplay a risk that Israel has been pushing to the international community? Liberman was clear in the interview that Israel would not allow permanent Iranian bases in Syria.

The comments appear at odds with Netanyahu's warnings, but it may be a slight difference of language. Netanyahu warned against Iranian bases in a July meeting in Paris, and told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that "Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment" in August. Rivlin warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September that Iran could "drag the whole region into war."

The Liberman comments also come in the context of an alleged change in policy regarding Israel's demands to Russia about Iranian forces in Syria. In September numerous reports asserted that Israel had demanded a 60-km. buffer along the border with Syria.

Then came the November report of the Iranian base at Al-Kiswah published in BBC. That base is 50-km from the border. Then, on November 26, the Kuwaiti newspaper claimed Israel has said it would target Iranian facilities within 40 km.

The real message here might not be for Assad and the Iranians, as much as it might be a quiet nod to the Russians. Israel might want to create daylight between the Russians and Assad.

Putin hosted Iran's President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral meeting on November 22, after hosting both Rouhani and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. "We cooperate with you in almost all areas of mutual interest," Putin told Rouhani, according to the short readout of the meeting from Putin's office. "Once again I want to note our undeniable progress toward resolving the situation in Syria."

Liberman's statements provide Russia with the time to discuss with Assad what comes next and to weigh whether Iran's presence in Syria is worth the possibility of Israeli action that would harm Moscow's ally.

This is a very sensitive period, with tensions between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia and Israel at an all-time high. With the war against Islamic State winding down and Russia, the US and Jordan signatories to a cease-fire in southwest Syria near the Golan border, no one wants a new conflict. Yet Iran is aggressively asserting itself. Gen. Muhammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, told Shargh newspaper in Iran that he is seeking distant bases. "It may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria."

Israel Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said in August that Israel had carried out almost 100 air strikes in Syria over five years to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah. Russia, Iran and Syria all know that Israel can act. Liberman's comments appear to put the breaks on the warnings, with hopes Russia will convince Assad that as the war enters a new phase in Syria, with cease-fires and de-escalation, it doesn't need Iran as much.

According to Dr. Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and lecturer at Shalem College, Israel's real interest today is to prevent Jordan from being destabilized by Iran. He said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently referenced the need to "turn the West Bank into the next Gaza," and that to do that Iran would want to gain access via Jordan.

"The larger question of Iranian bases deeper into Syria – that is a question of what to do about them. I don't think they can change the strategic balance, given that the Syrian military is a shadow of its old self," said Lerman.

The real redline today is not rhetoric about throwing the Iranians out of Syria, which isn't realistic, "but in more limited terms there are real redlines we can talk to the Russians about."


Tags:
hezbollah syria iran syria israel and syria

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Report: Trump expected to move embassy to Jerusalem within days

Israeli officials say President Trump preparing to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel, move US embassy to Jerusalem. Contact Editor
David Rosenberg, 29/11/17 20:52 | updated: 21:06 Share

Trump
TrumpReuters

Israeli officials expect President Donald Trump to announce plans to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the coming days, and to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

According to a report by Channel 2, senior Israeli officials have claimed that the Israeli government expects an announcement from the president in the coming days regarding the Israeli capital, following a comment by Vice President Mike Pence at a special event in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Israeli mission to the United Nations to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic United Nations General Assembly vote on Resolution 181, endorsing the establishment of a Jewish state, Pence said that the president is "actively considering" moving the embassy, calling it a matter of "when and how".

"President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Pence said.

Senior officials in Jerusalem told Channel 2, President Trump is expected to authorize the relocating of the embassy even before his administration presents its plans for a regional peace deal.

The sources claim that Trump has resolved not to renew a waiver allowing the embassy to remain in Tel Aviv.

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, requiring the president to move the US embassy to Israel's capital.

The law, which was signed by President Clinton, despite his own opposition to the bill, after it passed with broad bipartisan support.

Under the law, the president may delay implementation of the act for security reasons, renewing the waiver every six months.

In June, President Trump renewed the waiver, despite a campaign pledge to move the embassy.

Unconfirmed reports claim that President Trump is set to announce the formation of a special team to implement the embassy move.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman reiterated his belief that President Trump would in fact relocate the embassy, calling the move a matter of `when, not if'.

"The president has also made clear that he intends to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. And I take the president at his word, and I'm personally committed to do all that I can to advocate for this move."

White House: Reports of Israel embassy move are `premature' November 29, 2017 4:40pm
4shares

The Embassy of the United States of America in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 14, 2016. (Flash90)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House labeled as "premature" a report in the Israeli media that President Donald Trump was set to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

"We have nothing to announce," a White House official told JTA on Wednesday.

Trump has until this weekend to issue a waiver suspending for six months a 1995 law that mandates moving the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Every president, including Trump in June, has signed the waiver every six months since the law's passage.

Israel's Channel 2 quoted Israeli government officials as saying they anticipated that Trump would not sign the waiver and the embassy would soon move.

Trump had campaigned on moving the embassy but backpedaled once he assumed office after representations by Jordan's King Abdullah, who argued that a move would be disruptive and dangerous. Abdullah is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with government officials.

Vice President Mike Pence told a pro-Israel event on Tuesday that Trump was "actively considering when and how" to move the embassy. Get JTA's Daily Briefing in your inbox
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Analysis: Israel zigzags on Iranian bases in Syria to give Russia room

>

The hidden cost of flying and buying abroad >
Report: Trump to recognize Jerusalem as capital, staff to prepare embassy move

By Seth J. Frantzman
November 30, 2017 01:06
Jerusalem may be eyeing different redlines in Syria in hopes Moscow's message to Assad will reduce Iran's presence. 4 minute read.



FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zari

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran attend a news conference in Moscow in April.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On November 10 the BBC revealed that Iran is building a "permanent military base in Syria." The report came complete with aerial photos, yellow boxes and labels. It stressed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Iran against such a permanent presence.

Then, during an interview published Tuesday on Ynet, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that there is no physical Iranian presence in Syria. Liberman appeared to downplay the warnings from the prime minister, President Reuven Rivlin and others, asserting that the Iranian presence is relatively modest and consists of hundreds of experts and advisers.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


The comments by Liberman come amid reports in the Kuwaiti Arabic newspaper al-Jarida that Netanyahu sent a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad via Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep Iranian forces 40 kilometers from the border. Allegedly, this took place during Putin's meeting with Assad on November 21, when the Syrian president hugged Putin and thanked him "for all the efforts that Russia made to save our country."

Liberman chose his words carefully during the Ynet interview, speaking deliberately.

"Iran is not on our border," he said, when pressed about his comment that "we don't just speak," implying that Israel also acts to defend its interests, and that all the "players" know Israel is a strong power in the region.

On the one hand, his comment could be seen as his response to feeling accused of not preventing Iran from establishing itself in Syria. But why downplay a risk that Israel has been pushing to the international community? Liberman was clear in the interview that Israel would not allow permanent Iranian bases in Syria.

The comments appear at odds with Netanyahu's warnings, but it may be a slight difference of language. Netanyahu warned against Iranian bases in a July meeting in Paris, and told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that "Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment" in August. Rivlin warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September that Iran could "drag the whole region into war."

The Liberman comments also come in the context of an alleged change in policy regarding Israel's demands to Russia about Iranian forces in Syria. In September numerous reports asserted that Israel had demanded a 60-km. buffer along the border with Syria.

Then came the November report of the Iranian base at Al-Kiswah published in BBC. That base is 50-km from the border. Then, on November 26, the Kuwaiti newspaper claimed Israel has said it would target Iranian facilities within 40 km.

The real message here might not be for Assad and the Iranians, as much as it might be a quiet nod to the Russians. Israel might want to create daylight between the Russians and Assad.

Putin hosted Iran's President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral meeting on November 22, after hosting both Rouhani and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. "We cooperate with you in almost all areas of mutual interest," Putin told Rouhani, according to the short readout of the meeting from Putin's office. "Once again I want to note our undeniable progress toward resolving the situation in Syria."

Liberman's statements provide Russia with the time to discuss with Assad what comes next and to weigh whether Iran's presence in Syria is worth the possibility of Israeli action that would harm Moscow's ally.

This is a very sensitive period, with tensions between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia and Israel at an all-time high. With the war against Islamic State winding down and Russia, the US and Jordan signatories to a cease-fire in southwest Syria near the Golan border, no one wants a new conflict. Yet Iran is aggressively asserting itself. Gen. Muhammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, told Shargh newspaper in Iran that he is seeking distant bases. "It may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria."

Israel Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said in August that Israel had carried out almost 100 air strikes in Syria over five years to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah. Russia, Iran and Syria all know that Israel can act. Liberman's comments appear to put the breaks on the warnings, with hopes Russia will convince Assad that as the war enters a new phase in Syria, with cease-fires and de-escalation, it doesn't need Iran as much.

According to Dr. Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and lecturer at Shalem College, Israel's real interest today is to prevent Jordan from being destabilized by Iran. He said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently referenced the need to "turn the West Bank into the next Gaza," and that to do that Iran would want to gain access via Jordan.

"The larger question of Iranian bases deeper into Syria – that is a question of what to do about them. I don't think they can change the strategic balance, given that the Syrian military is a shadow of its old self," said Lerman.

The real redline today is not rhetoric about throwing the Iranians out of Syria, which isn't realistic, "but in more limited terms there are real redlines we can talk to the Russians about."


Tags:
hezbollah syria iran syria israel and syria

Related Content
Hamas and Fatah ask Egypt to postpone transfer of responsibility for Gaza

>

Sarona gunmen get four life sentences for shooting that killed four >
Hamas, PA unity appears to founder

By Adam Rasgon
November 30, 2017 01:26
Under an agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah in Cairo in mid-October, the PA is supposed to take full responsibility for Gaza by Friday.



Hamas and Fatah ask Egypt to postpone transfer of responsibility for Gaza

Head of Hamas delegation Saleh Arouri and Fatah leader Azzam Ahmad sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH)

Hamas and Fatah on Wednesday asked Egypt to postpone the transfer of responsibility for the Gaza Strip from Hamas to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

Under an agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah in Cairo in mid-October, the PA is supposed to take full responsibility for Gaza by Friday. Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the PA in 2007 from the territory.

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"Hamas and Fatah requested that the Egyptian brothers postpone the completion of the government's take over of its responsibilities in the Strip…from December 1 to December 10," Fayez Abu Eitah, a Gaza-based Fatah official, said, reading a joint Hamas-Fatah statement. "This is to complete the arrangements to guarantee the achievement of reconciliation."

The statement came after a meeting between Hamas, Fatah, PA and Egyptian officials in Gaza.

In the past week, Hamas and Fatah have fought over the implementation of the mid-October agreement, accusing each other of evading their commitments to it.


Tags:
Hamas hamas egypt hamas fatah

Related Content
November 30, 2017
Hamas, PA unity appears to founder

By ADAM RASGON

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zari Analysis: Israel zigzags on Iranian bases in Syria to give Russia room

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Israel to appoint new envoy to Jordan in bid to heal ties

By HERB KEINON, MICHAEL WILNER
An activist is removed by security forces from the Netiv Ha'avot outpost during a demolition. WATCH: Israeli forces face off with settlers during outpost eviction

By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Israel's northern border, November 2017 Defense Minister: There are no Iranian military forces in Syria

By ANNA AHRONHEIM

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