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Israel’s Invisible Presence in Astana Guaranteed by Russia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Shops are open near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Tel Aviv – Israel is optimistic regarding Russia’s position concerning Israel’s interests, according to Israeli military and political officials.

Even if Israel didn’t attend the Astana talks to settle the Syrian case, its position will be represented for two reasons: attacks near Damascus, and the positive development of relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the officials.

Netanyahu is constantly contacting Putin, even before and after the attacks on Mezzeh military airport which were accredited to Israel.

Highly informed Israeli sources said that this will be discussed during the talks on Syria’s future – expected to start on January 23 in Astana.

Sources added that Israel wasn’t invited to this conference, but it is making sure that its presence is felt there through all possible channels, and thus conveying a message that no agreement can be reached, especially concerning Golan Heights, without taking Israeli interests into account.

After Aleppo, Russians began preparing for the summit in Kazakhstan, and once again a new report surfaced saying that Israel had attacked Syria, with all Russian media quoting the official statement from Damascus. But what is more important is that for the first time a Russian official speaks of the attack and is surprisingly understanding of Israel’s position.

State Duma Deputy and Deputy Chairman of Committee on International Affairs Andrey Klimov was quoted in the semi-official Izvestia newspaper saying that Israel uses the armed forces against organization considered a threat to its security. He also accused Hezbollah without naming it explicitly saying: “Tel Aviv is fighting against terrorist organizations engaged in the war in Syria.”

Israeli officials believe that this is an official Russian hint to Iranians, and Hezbollah, that they disagree with Moscow concerning arrangements in Syria.

Israel’s benefit is evident here: to deter any attempts that the Syrian regime might try to take control over Golan Heights, whether through war or dialogue with the opposition.

Officials also declared that unlike similar incidents in the past, Syrians are trying to gain politically from this attack pointing fingers at Israel and addressing the Security Council saying the Tel Aviv used F-35 warplanes in the attack. But, F-35 doesn’t exactly present new technologies that Israel doesn’t already have, and Israel doesn’t need new planes that haven’t gained any experience around the world in action.

“It seems as though Syrians want to embarrass the U.S. administration by saying: you gave Israel developed weapons, and they directly used it to aggravate the conflict in the Middle East,” according to an Israeli official.

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson had warned U.S. and coalition forces of attacking Syrian regime targets. As for the Israeli attacks, Moscow is currently ignoring them.

All of this consequently leads to the belief that there are silent agreements between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Other than the agreement on avoiding airplanes of both armies from attacking one another, the content of this pact isn’t very clear.

Those agreements had been reached during the exchanged phone calls between Putin and Netanyahu and especially during the meeting between Israeli Commander of Air Force Maj-Gen Amir Eshel and Russian Chief of Staff.

We can then deduce that Russia understands what are the Israeli red lines and interests in Syria.