DAMASCUS – Western diplomatic sources confirmed that a Syrian-Israeli meeting took place at the Russian Hmeimim base near the coastal city of Latakia.
These sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that despite the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s denial that such a meeting took place, the news are accurate.
They added that Syria, backed by both Iran and Russia, found itself in a difficult position, after Russians insisted on the meeting and Iranian objected to the talks with Israeli side.
The sources revealed that the Russians were keen on bringing the Israelis to Hmeimim in order to convey a direct message to Iran, indicating that the Jewish state cannot accept, in any way, an Iranian military presence on Syrian territories, especially after it was found that Iran is in possession of a vastly improved arsenal of high-precision missiles and drones.
The same sources stated that Israel has asked Damascus to choose between more Israeli strikes on targets in Syria and Iranian presence there.
A Western diplomat said that the Russians wanted the representatives of the Syrian regime to directly hear the Israeli threats; after Moscow had made it clear to Damascus that “it cannot prevent Israel from protecting itself from Iranian missiles.”
The diplomat indicated that Russia resorted to exerting great pressure on Damascus in order to convince it of the need to hold the meeting with Israelis. He said that among those pressures was the suspension of fuel supplies to Syria. This created a serious crisis with the absence of petrol and diesel in the various areas under the regime’s control.
It was noteworthy in this regard that the Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous said on Sunday that seven oil tankers on their way to Syria were intercepted in “terrorist attacks,” with two of the vessels delayed for over a month in the Red Sea before loading.
The interception led to a delay in tankers’ arrival for more than a month and resulted in the Baniyas refinery ceasing production and a shortage in oil derivatives required to meet the country’s needs of gasoline and diesel.
During his address to the People’s Assembly on the government’s performance in the past period and its plans for the next stage, Arnous said Syria had already imported 1.2 million tonnes of Iranian crude oil that cost along with petroleum products in the last six months around $820 million.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke out against Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked sites in Syria, saying Jerusalem should instead provide Moscow with intelligence about such threats so that it can “neutralise” them.
“If Israel is really forced to respond to threats to the Israeli security coming from the Syrian territory, we have told our Israeli colleagues many times: if you see such threats please give us the information,” Lavrov said.
“We do not want the lands of Syria to be used against Israel or an arena for conflict between it and Iran,” he said, adding, “We are in close contact with Israel and call on it to stop the attacks on the Syrian and Lebanese lands.”
Lavrov also noted that Syria, already ravaged by civil war, should be kept from being turned into a battlefield against Iran.
Observers believe that the continued Israeli attacks on various sites in Syria carry clear messages stating that Tel Aviv will not stop targeting what it believes to be Iranian targets as long as Damascus does not take a clear position regarding the Iranian presence or the presence of Iran-aligned proxies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Afghan and Iraqi militias.
Observers also point out that the Syrian authorities are now dealing with clear facts, including Iran’s inability to deal with any Israeli attacks, as well as Russian neutrality, which automatically means that Syria’s betting on time and changes in Western policies has proven meaningless in the face of Israeli insistence on countering Iranian threats.
Last November, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a stern warning to Damascus that it would bear the consequences of any “hostile” moves against Israel from its territories.
“I, once again, remind our enemies: Israel will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty on any front,” Gantz said in a statement. “The Syrian regime is accountable for what happens on its territory or out of its territory.”
In recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that Israeli attacks on the Syrian-Iraqi borders were primarily aimed at sending a message to Iranians, who are betting on a change in the American position after new President Joe Biden assumes his duties.
Through these attacks, Tel Aviv is apparently telling Tehran that Israel will not change its course when it comes to countering an Iranian significant presence in Syria – a presence that Tel Aviv views as a threat to the Jewish state’s national security.
In recent months, Israel has intensified its attacks on Iranian military sites and proxies’ positions in several areas of Syria.
Meanwhile, Iranians are hoping that Biden’s assumption of power will provide them with an opportunity to manoeuvre on various regional levels in return for “Iranian flexibility” in dealing with the nuclear file.