The United States wants Russia to allow Israeli warplanes to continue attacking Iranian advisors in Syria, as Israel fears it can no longer enter the Arab country’s airspace after Moscow supplied Damascus with advanced S-300 air defense systems.
“Russia has been permissive, in consultation with the Israelis, about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. We certainly hope that that permissive approach will continue,” James Jeffrey, Washington’s special representative to Syria said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Both Iran and Russia have been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government purging foreign-backed terrorist groups from the country.
Israel, however, views the Islamic republic’s advisors in Syria as a threat and has openly pledged to target them out until they leave the country.
The Israeli air force has staged repeated air raids against Syrian military bases that it claims are used by Iranian military advisors.
“Israel has an existential interest in blocking Iran from deploying long-range power projection systems ... inside Syria to be used against Israel. We understand the existential interest and we support Israel,” Jeffrey said.
In October, Moscow equipped Damascus with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles, days after Israeli fighter jets attacking Syrian targets used a Russian surveillance plane flying nearby as a shield and misled the Syrian air defenses to shoot it down.
The incident in September strained ties between Russia and Israel. According to some reports, Moscow has repeatedly turned down requests by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Our immediate effort is to try to calm that situation down and then move on to a long-term solution,” the US envoy said with regards to the fallout between Moscow and Tel Aviv.
The diplomat said Washington was working to ensure that all Iranian military advisors leave Syria.
“The Russians, having been there before, would not in fact withdraw, but you’ve got four other outside military forces - the Israelis, the Turkish, the Iranian and the American - all operating inside Syria right now. It’s a dangerous situation,” Jeffrey said.
Turkey has staged two incursions into northern Syria since 2016 with a declared aim of curbing Kurdish militant groups. Jeffery said Washington took Ankara’s concerns seriously.
Iran has made it clear that it would stay in Syria as long as Damascus requests.
Jefferey noted that forcing Iran to leave Syria was an objective of Trump’s campaign of economic pressure against the Islamic Republic, which seeks to end Tehran’s ballistic missile and nuclear energy programs while forcing it to roll back its regional influence.
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