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Top US Senator to Israel: ‘Don’t strike Syria deal with Russia at our expense'

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk, said the US moves closer to "preemptive war" with every new North Korean missile or nuclear test
Brendan SMIALOWSKI (AFP/File)

A senior Republican lawmaker on Thursday warned Israel against striking a deal with Russia on the future of Iranian forces in Syria at the expense of the United States’ interests in the country.

“To our friends in Israel — be very careful making agreements with Russia re Syria that affect U.S. interests,” tweeted South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a former Republican presidential candidate.

“I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria. U.S. must maintain presence in Syria to ensure ISIS doesn’t come back and to counter Russia/Iran influence,” he continued, adding that a withdrawal of American troops from the country would be a “major disaster for Kurdish allies, U.S. interests and regional stability.”

Graham’s appeal came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday evening, and amid reports that US President Donald Trump was considering a deal with the Russian leader regarding the future of Syria.


Former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro responded to Graham’s tweet, saying that while he agreed with the Senator’s remarks they would be better addressed to the White House.

“Senator Graham is absolutely right here. But he ignores that Trump is trying to cook up a ‘deal’ that lets US troops leave Syria, relies on flimsy Russian promises to expel Iran, and pays for all this in European currency,” Shapiro wrote.

A report by the New Yorker magazine on Tuesday claimed that Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates had all separately urged Trump to offer Putin to lift US sanctions related to its 2014 annexation of Crimea in exchange for removing Iranian forces from Syria.


Russia has reportedly agreed to distance Iranian troops some 40 to 80 kilometers from the Israeli border, but has called it “absolutely unrealistic” to expect a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country.

“Our opinion is that Iran needs to leave Syria -- that's not new to you," Netanyahu told Putin ahead of their closed door meeting on Wednesday, according to a read-out of his remarks.

Wednesday’s Netanyahu-Putin summit is the latest in a series of regular meetings and phone calls between the two leaders since Russia's direct military intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in 2015.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iranian-backed forces fighting alongside Assad were attempting to stake out a permanent presence in the country, consolidating in southern Syria adjacent to Israel’s northern border.

Underscoring Israel’s concerns, as Netanyahu touched down in Moscow the Israeli military announced that it had shot down a Syrian military drone that entered Israel's airspace, later confirming it also conducted a series of retaliatory airstrikes in the country.

AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool

Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel would continue its formal policy of non-interference in the Syrian civil war, so long as the 1974 Separation of Forces ceasefire agreement over the Golan Heights was upheld, while continuing to act against Iran and Hezbollah.

“We haven't had a problem with the Assad regime, for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu told reporters as he departed Moscow.

“I have set a clear policy that we do not intervene and we have not intervened. This has not changed. What has troubled us is ISIS and Hezbollah and this has not changed. The heart of the matter is preserving our freedom of action against anyone who acts against us. Second, the removal of the Iranians from Syrian territory,” he said.

Netanyahu’s remarks came as reports said Russia would act to push Iranian forces from near the Syria-Israel border, and in exchange, Israel is expected not to "intervene" in Assad's efforts to stabilize his rule. It was not clear what specific actions Putin wants Israel to refrain from taking.

Though allied with Assad, Moscow has largely given Israeli warplanes a free hand over Syrian skies and has turned a blind eye to frequent strikes attributed to Israel targeting outposts housing Iranian and Iran-backed forces and armaments, including heavy weapons convoys believed destined for Hezbollah.

See also:

Liberman: Iran-backed forces establishing 'terror network' across Syrian border

Analysis: New dangers of an escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria arise

Comments

(1)

Iran MUST be xpeld from Syria, Lebanon & Yemen.

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