International summits are usually held for the purpose of reaching and ratifying agreements. By contrast, the trilateral summit in Yerushalayim on Tuesday highlighted areas of deep dispute between Israel, the U.S. and Russia about how to handle Iran.
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s resolve not to allow Iran to become entrenched in Syria nor to obtain a nuclear weapon, Russian National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev objected to Israeli air strikes against Iranian assets in Syria as “undesirable,” and denied that Tehran was a menace to regional stability.
“Israel has acted hundreds of times to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. Israel will continue to prevent Iran from using neighboring territory as platforms to attack us and Israel will respond forcibly to any such attacks,” PM Netanyahu said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Patrushev claimed, to the contrary, that Iran was “contributing a lot to fighting terrorists on Syrian soil and stabilizing the situation there.”
The Russian official did temper his remarks by saying that “We pay special attention to ensuring Israel’s security,” he said, calling it “a special interest of ours because here in Israel live a little less than about two million of our countrymen. Israel supports us in several channels, including at the U.N. The prime minister [Netanyahu] has already said that we share the same views on the issue of the struggle against falsifying the history of World War II.”
The participants tried to stress areas of agreement, though it wasn’t easy.
Netanyahu thanked Russia for working out a deconfliction mechanism with Israel, which allows it to operate in Syria with minimal risk to Russian forces in the country.
“All three of us [Israel, Russia and the U.S.] would like to see a peaceful, stable and secure Syria,” Netanyahu said.
“We also have a common objective to achieve that goal… that no foreign forces that arrived in Syria after 2011 remain in Syria,” Netanyahu said.
Here, too, there are differences. Whereas Israel counts Iran as one of those foreign forces that must go, Russia excludes Iran from the list, because it is there at the request of the Assad regime.
At the conference, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton asserted that not only is Iran an undesirable presence in Syria, but that privately Russia recognizes that and would like to see Iran leave.
“The Russians have said repeatedly that they would like to see Iranian forces leave,” he said, citing comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent meeting in Moscow.
Bolton said that despite this stated desire, they still await Iran’s departure. He expressed the hope that at the summit in Yerushalayim, the three countries would work to “find a way to make it happen.”
Patrushev also took Iran’s side in the downing of a U.S. drone last week. He said the Russian Defense Ministry had determined that the aircraft had entered Iranian airspace, as Tehran claims, and not, as the U.S. says, that the drone was flying in international airspace when it was shot down.
“We have not seen any proof otherwise,” Patrushev said.