Syrian and Israeli officials reportedly held a meeting last month at the Russian airbase in Hmeimim, Syria, Asharq Al Awsat, an Arabic international newspaper headquartered in London, reported Sunday (تقارير عن اجتماع سوري – إسرائيلي لإخراج إيران وميليشياتها). There has been no official comment on the report from Damascus or Jerusalem.
Asharq Al Awsat was citing the Syrian Jusoor Center for Studies, which states it is “an independent institution specializing in information management and conducting studies and research related to Syrian political and social affairs in particular and the Middle East region in general.”
Jusoor is planning to issue a report on Monday saying that the meeting included, on the Syrian side, director of the National Security Office Major General Ali Mamlouk, and security advisor at the palace Bassam Hassan, and on the Israeli side, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gadi Eisenkot, the former IDF chief of staff, and Ari ben Menashe, an Iranian-born Israeli businessman, security consultant, and author. Also on hand was the commander of Russian forces in Syria, Alexander Chayko.
The Syrian side wants their country to be accepted back into the Arab League, and to be granted financial aid to help it pay its debts to Iran. They also want the lifting of Western sanctions on Syria. The Israelis at the meeting demanded that Hezbollah, Iran, and Iranian proxy militias be withdrawn completely from Syria, that a Syrian government that includes opposition groups be formed, and that the Syrian military be restructured.
According to the coming Jusoor Center report, “the meeting did not end with specific agreements, but it constitutes the beginning of a path that Russia is pushing for and which is expected to expand considerably in 2021 since Moscow believes that building a direct relationship between the Assad regime and Israel would extend a lifeline to the regime and help obtain international support for Russia’s political project in Syria.”
The Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War began in September 2015, after an official request by the Syrian government for military aid against rebel groups. The intervention involved airstrikes by Russian aircraft against targets primarily in north-western Syria, and against Syrian opposition militant groups opposed to the Syrian government, including the Syrian National Coalition, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Army of Conquest. In addition, Russian special operations forces and military advisors are deployed to Syria. At the end of December 2017, the Russian government said its troops would be deployed in Syria permanently. In mid-2018, Russia and the United States reached an agreement whereby Washington would abandon the Syrian opposition, and allow the return of regime forces to southern Syria—the Israeli Golan Heights.
According to the Jusoor Center, “Peace with Israel is an ideal solution for the regime to get out of the diplomatic and economic blockade.”
For its part, Iran is aware, according to the report, that the regime “is looking for exits that will bring it back into the international system and help it to get rid of Iranian and Russian restrictions or at least one of the two. Therefore, Tehran seeks to obstruct the regime’s efforts, and has previously obstructed Russian efforts that coordinate these trends.”
Asharq Al Awsat noted that “last Tuesday, Israel, with US support, launched the heaviest raids on Iranian and Syrian sites in northeastern Syria. The Israeli army announced in its annual report for 2020 that it carried out 50 airstrikes on targets in Syria, and launched more than 500 missiles and smart missiles during the past year, with the aim of ‘preventing Iran’s positioning in Syria.’ It is believed that the Israeli side, which is rushing to benefit from the support of President Donald Trump’s administration to the last day of its life, wants to lay down ‘new rules’ with the approval of the Joe Biden administration, which it believes is about to negotiate with Tehran over the nuclear program.”
All of the above sounds remarkably optimistic, but one element in it raises doubts regarding its veracity: Gadi Eisenkot? Seriously? On the other hand, Gadi Eisenkot just announced the other day he was not jumping into Israeli politics just yet, so maybe this is why: he was busy negotiating with Syria.
There’s one more item raising doubts: the Assad regime sent representatives to talk to Israel and not once raised the return of the Golan Heights as a deal killer? Hard to believe.