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Analysts: Alleged Russian Offer On Iranian Pullout From Syria Unlikely To Bear Fruit

Putin reportedly proposed removing Iranian forces and proxies from Syria in exchange for sanctions relief

An alleged offer made by Russian President Vladimir Putin to both the United States and Israel on removing Iranian forces and their proxies in Syria in exchange for sanctions relief on the Islamic Republic is unlikely to bear fruit, analysts told The Media Line. According to Israeli media, the proposal was revealed this week by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a meeting of parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Wednesday said that he “could not confirm” the details of the reports, which did not specify when the offer was made. There is speculation, however, that the matter was discussed when Netanyahu and Putin met for a brief face-to-face earlier this month on the sidelines of a conference in Paris. It was their first encounter since a major diplomatic crisis erupted in September when a Russian reconnaissance plane was downed by Syrian forces in Latakia, an incident the Kremlin nevertheless blamed on Israel which minutes before had conducted an aerial raid on an Iranian arms depot.

Despite the lack of official confirmation, experts on Iranian foreign policy believe that such a proposal aligns with ongoing Iranian attempts to circumvent crippling U.S. economic sanctions.

“I think this is a credible offer,” Dr. Sanam Vakil, Senior Consulting Research Fellow and head of the Iran Forum at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, contended to The Media Line. “The Iranian government looks to a number of actors in the international community including Putin to barter in order to prevent the [impact] of sanctions.

“However, my reading is that there is no more deal, as from what I understand this is something that was offered before the re-imposition of [financial penalties] and I think that the U.S. government said no. The position of the Trump administration and its partners is that they feel very confident that their strategy and pressure on Iran is going to result in a drawdown and a retrenchment of Iran from the region.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to Russia Zvi Magen agrees that the proposal likely was made and that Netanyahu’s statements were, in turn, leaked to the press. Nevertheless, he noted, “Russia claimed that there were similar offers but not exactly what Netanyahu said.”

Magen, who currently is a researcher at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, similarly holds that Washington is unlikely to have responded positively to the overture.

“In the past few years, all the proposals concerning concessions to Russia have been received very negatively in the U.S. Russia is under very difficult conditions due to [their own economic] sanctions and is trying to find a way out of them. One of the reasons they entered the war in Syria is to use that as a bargaining chip.

“I’m not sure what Putin can promise the U.S. about Iran’s atomic program,” he concluded, “as Moscow can’t control what Tehran does with its nuclear capabilities.”

Russian officials previously stressed that they cannot fully roll back Iran’s military footprint in Syria, although Moscow has worked with Jerusalem to ensure that Iranian-backed Shiite forces, including members of Hizbullah, do not operate within approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the border with Israel.

The Israeli military over the last two years has conducted hundreds of air strikes targeting Iranian assets in Syria and weapons convoys destined for Hizbullah in Lebanon. However, the recent transfer by Russia to the Assad regime of the advanced S-300 defense system has curtailed Israel’s freedom of action.