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Washington Wrap: Race Against Iran

Omri Nahmias

Jerusalem’s concerns about Iran’s steady encroachment on the Syrian border spurred a marathon of meetings last week

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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J erusalem’s concerns about Iran’s steady encroachment on the Syrian border spurred a marathon of meetings last week between senior Israeli officials and their counterparts in Washington and Moscow. Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman alluded to the differences of opinion between Israel and Russia as he launched his meeting with the Russian defense minister, Sergey Shoygu. “We don’t always agree,” Lieberman said, “but we always speak honestly and openly.” A short time after the meeting, he took off for Washington to meet Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster — and discuss the very same issues.

A senior Israeli official with inside information about the proceedings at the meetings, and who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Mishpacha that “as far as Israel is concerned, the most important issue right now is the Iranian foothold in Syria.” He noted, “We have two new ‘neighbors’ — Iran and Russia —and that radically changes the picture in the Middle East. Israel’s defense minister brought up these concerns with the Russian defense minister, but ultimately, the United States is our most important ally.”

Does that “most important” ally see the region from Israel’s perspective? From our source’s information, it’s not clear that is the case. “Our problem,” he said, “is that even if there is an agreement of some kind, we aren’t willing to accept Iranian proxies on the border or near the border. We simply cannot accept that, and we’ve made that clear — be it through a verbal agreement, a signed document, or just facts on the ground. We will continue to enforce our red lines, which boil down to the transfer of precision weapons. The route begins in Iran, passes through Damascus, and ends in Lebanon, in the hands of Hezbollah.”

Lieberman wasn’t the only Israeli official making the case for Israel’s red lines. Israel’s National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat ran his own flurry of meetings in Moscow and Washington. After meeting his American counterpart, General McMaster, and other senior officials in the American administration, he took off for Moscow as the guest of the secretary of the Russian security council, Nikolai Patrushev. An Israeli delegation joined him for these meetings, which included senior defense ministry officials, foreign ministry officials, and IDF officers.

The high-level attendees and packed schedules speak not only to the gravity that Jerusalem attributes to Iran’s growing influence in Syria, but also the urgency of the timing. Netanyahu and Lieberman are well aware that the clock is ticking all too quickly. There is just a small window of time before the Iranians establish their facts on the ground, and any agreements with the United States and Russia to distance Iran from the Israeli border must be finalized now. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 682)

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