Russia’s ambassador to Israel has highlighted Iran’s crucial role in counter-terrorism efforts in Syria, saying Tehran’s presence in the war-torn country is legal under international law and thus it cannot be forced out.
Iran is “playing a very, very important role in our common and joint efforts to eliminate terrorists in Syria,” Anatoly Viktorov said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 on Monday.
“The Iranian presence in Syria… is fully legitimate according to the UN principles and the UN charter,” Viktorov said. “Therefore, at this stage we think that demands to remove the foreign fighters from Syrian territory are not realistic.”
The diplomat was referring to a call by the regime in Tel Aviv for Russia to get it Iranian allies out of Syria, where Tehran, Moscow and Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement are helping the national army in its fight against a myriad of terror groups – many of which have the support of Israel in their bid to topple the Damascus government.
Backed by its allies, the Syrian government has stepped up its gains against the terror groups on several fronts.
The Tel Aviv regime is especially concerned over Syria’s advances against the terrorists operating in the south near
the Israeli-occupied territories.
Such concerns promoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pay two visits to Russia in a little over two months time – one on July 11 and the other on May 9.
Netanyahu repeated Tel Aviv’s call for the withdrawal of Iranians from Syria in his recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Israeli-occupied territories.
Moscow, however, has repeatedly said that Iran’s presence in Syria – like that of Russia—comes at the request of the Damascus government and is thus legitimate. Damascus has, in turn, said Tehran’s anti-terror mission in Syria is not up for discussions.
Iran has also made it clear that it will continue its anti-terrorism mission in Syria as long as the legal government in Damascus wants it to do so.
The Russian envoy further noted that Moscow can talk to its “Iranian friends” about a full withdrawal from Syria as Israel demands, but “cannot force them” to do so.
Elsewhere in the interview, Viktorov was asked whether Russia is “okay” with Israel’s airstrikes on Syria.
“We are not okay with any forced action. We cannot agree with all actions that are taken by the Israeli government. How can we be satisfied,” he replied.
As Syria deals more blows to the terror groups on the battlefield, Israel has increased its aerial assaults against Syrian army in what is widely viewed as an attempt to prop up the terrorists.
The regime’s air force in April hit Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs Province, killing more than a dozen people, including seven Iranian military advisors. Tehran vowed to punish the regime for the crime.
Recently, Tel Aviv has significantly beefed up its military presence on the occupied side of Syria’s Golan Heights, deploying more military equipment and forces to the region. The regime has also threatened more strikes against Syrian soil.
The Russian ambassador also spoke of an agreement with Tel Aviv to allay the regime’s concerns regarding the situation in southern Syria, saying, “No non-Syrian troops should be in the southern de-escalation area. Specific details are still under discussion…it would not be fruitful to reveal.”
Russia downs militant drone
In another development on Sunday night, the Russian military managed to shoot down a militant drone targeting the Hmeimim Air Base in Syria's Latakia Province.
The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said in a statement that there had been no injuries or material damage as a result of the attempted attack and that the airfield was operating in a routine manner.
“The target was destroyed by anti-aircraft fire at a significant distance from the base,” the statement read.
The Russian base has recently been the target of attempted drone attacks by anti-Damascus militants, who have been suffering defeats at the hands of Syrian government forces.