Israel Rejected Russian Offer To Remove Iranian Forces From Syria In Return For Sanctions Relief
Opposition lawmakers in Israel’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are demanding answers regarding a Russian letter outlining a quid pro quo deal for the removal of Iranian troops from Syria in return for sanctions relief on the Islamic Republic. The Russian missive reportedly was delivered in September to Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, with a view to enhancing relations between Moscow, Washington and Jerusalem through a “grand bargain” on Iran and Syria. Notably, the proposal was made prior to a sharp deterioration in Israel-Russia ties due to the downing that same month by Syrian soldiers of a Russian reconnaissance plane, an incident the Kremlin nevertheless blamed on the Israeli military which minutes earlier had conducted a nearby aerial assault targeting an Iranian weapons depot. Accordingly, it is unknown whether the Russian offer was kept on the table or retracted amid the ensuing tensions. Nevertheless, the agreement purportedly stipulated the removal of American forces from Syria and a relaxation of financial penalties imposed by Washington on Tehran in exchange for forcing Iranian troops and their Shiite allies, including Hizbullah, out of the war-torn country. Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the plan as it would have involved the easing of sanctions, which he views as the primary vehicle through which to pressure the Iranian regime to curb its expansionism and renegotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement, from which the U.S. withdrew in May. The matter has assumed greater significance ahead of the prospective unilateral pull-out of American troops from Syria, which analysts near-uniformly contend greatly diminishes the ability of both the U.S. and Israel to influence developments on the ground.