U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin just concluded a bilateral summit in Helsinki, Finland, that proved to be one of the most widely anticipated meetings in years—or, at least, since the meeting with North Korea. While the discussions centered on relations with Europe and the United States, a topic that also took high priority was the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Over the last month, the Syrian regime—backed by Russian, Iran, Hezbollah and Shi’a militias—has launched a massive operation in its south to defeat one of the remaining rebel strongholds in the country. Not only has the operation, spurred on by Syrian President Bashar Assad, led to a massive humanitarian disaster, but it has brought Iran and its terror proxies even closer to the Israeli border.
The issue of Iran’s presence has been a growing concern for Israel and the United States. Israel has raised alarms over Iran and its Shi’ite terror proxies establishing a permanent presence in post-war Syria, especially along the demilitarized Israeli-Syrian border.
Since the beginning of the year, Israeli and Iranian forces have come close to a full-scale conflict over Iranian provocations along the Israeli-Syrian border and even into Israeli territory itself. In February, an Iranian drone was shot down by Israel after it crossed into Israeli airspace. This led to retaliatory Israeli airstrikes inside of Syria that saw an Israeli F-16 shot down.
Tensions again threatened to boil over in May, when Israel carried out its largest airstrikes in Syria in decades against Iranian infrastructure in the country.
Since then, the Israeli Air Force has continued smaller-scale airstrikes in Syria in response to Syrian or Iranian provocations, as well as targeted Iranian efforts to transfer weapons into Syria to bolster pro-Iranian militias and Hezbollah.
But Tehran has dismissed any suggestion that it will leave.
“We came [to Syria] not at the invitation of the United States, and we will not leave because of its threats,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a close adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at the Valdai Discussion Club last week while visiting Moscow.
At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Putin three times in the last six months to press him on the issue. Last week at a meeting in Moscow, Netanyahu firmly told Putin that “Iran needs to leave Syria.”
Then on Saturday, Netanyahu spoke with Trump by phone, saying the topics discussed were “Syria and Iran, first and foremost.”
Following the Putin-Trump meeting, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that he “commends” the commitment by President Trump for Israel’s security during the summit. He also said he “appreciates the security coordination” between Israel and Russia and the “clear position expressed by President Putin regarding the need to uphold the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post