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Syria: Iran is not leaving, despite US, Israeli pressure

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A Syrian official told Russian media that there are no plans for Iran to reduce its troop levels in the country, even if the US and Israel seek to offer Russia a deal.

Speaking to Izvestia and later reported in Russia’s TASS news agency, the report seeks to downplay rumors that an upcoming US, Israel and Russia trilateral meeting in Israel would examine Iran’s presence in Syria.
Last week, the US and Israel said there would be a trilateral meeting with Russia this month. Reports emerged that there were discussions about a possible Trump administration suggestion that the US could accept the Assad regime in exchange for a reduction of Iranian forces and influence in Syria.

Asharq Al-Awsat reported the rumors Monday, but a US official told The National in Abu Dhabi that Washington flatly denied the report.

The US officially opposes the Bashar Assad regime and US President Donald Trump has launched airstrikes against the regime and harshly criticized it for human rights violations, including recent bombing in Idlib.

Trump has also accused Iran of attacking Idlib via its forces in Syria. US-Iran tensions rose this month as the US also accused Tehran of threats in the Gulf and in Iraq.

Israel has called on Iranian forces to leave Syria, and recent airstrikes in Syria, two of which Israeli Defense Forces released information about, have occurred over the last week since May 27.

Syria claimed that Israel struck its T-4 airbase where Iranians are suspected to be present.

Syria’s chairman of the Syrian Parliamentary Committee told Izvestia in Russia that “Damascus has no intention of turning away Iran’s military assistance or demanding an Iranian troop withdrawal.”

The Russian report notes that “Washington and Tel Aviv intended to offer a deal to Moscow and Damascus.” The deal would legitimize Assad and remove sanctions as long as the Iranian presence was reduced.

Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Science also threw cold water on the news. Russia will not harm relations with Iran for the “sake of a doubtful deal with the Americans,” TASS reported.

In addition, Syria says that it will not bargain regarding Iran’s presence. The US sanctions are a violation of Syria’s rights.

“Washington is not in a position to tell a sovereign state whose troops it may or may not host,” the lawmaker pointed out, according to TASS. “The Iranian troops are deployed to our country based on our government’s official request and will leave Syria when it is necessary.”
But Syria is willing to have talks with Western countries. Although the report did not mention this, Syria wants massive investment to rebuild the country after eight years of war and the displacement of 11 million people. Turkey occupies northern Syria and a US-led coalition supports the Syrian Democratic Forces, which control eastern Syria.

RUSSIA ALSO wonders if the US and Israel are prepared to make “positive actions” regarding Syria, the report notes. “The recent bombing of Syrian military facilities near Quneitra and an air base near Hama did not happen at the same time by chance, but were part of the same campaign,” an expert told Russian media.

This is a thinly veiled accusation against Jerusalem, but it comes as part of the generally amicable relations between Moscow and Israel. While Russia has critiqued Israeli airstrikes in the past, it has also indicated that foreign forces should leave Syria.

However, Moscow’s stance is often cloaked in opacity. Russia said it would supply the Syrian regime with the S-400 last September after Syrian air defenses downed a Russian place during an Israeli airstrike near Latakia.

There are other issues involved as well. Radio Farda reported over the weekend that Russia was not willing to sell Iran the S-400 air defense system.

It is already selling it to Turkey and has shopped it around the Middle East. Russia has also denied reports of a deal with the US regarding Venezuela and a withdrawal of Russians from the South American nation.

These reports should be read as brinkmanship designed to elicit a response from either Moscow or Washington, to test the waters of what might happen on all these files that Moscow and Washington are dealing with.

 Israel’s media has mistakenly reported in the past that Moscow would ask Iran or Hezbollah to leave Syria and reports have surfaced of Russian guarantees to Israel about keeping Iran away from the Golan ceasefire lines.

Since 2016, reports have also emerged of tensions between Russia and Iran in Syria, including tensions on the ground between different parts of the Syrian army and paramilitary forces that the countries work with. The full details of all these reports never clearly emerge and Moscow, Tehran and Damascus prefer it that way.

On Tuesday, Syria’s regime media SANA reported that it is working on a friendly agreement with Iran. The Syrian soccer team will soon play the Iranians.

At the same time, SANA says that Syria and Russia “affirmed their intention to develop cooperation in various fields,” in a meeting between Syrian Presidential Affairs Minister Mansour Azzam and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.

If those two reports are an indication of the relative interests of Damascus, it is that Damascus realizes Russia is the more important ally. Iran is more important for people-to-people relations on the ground.
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