Assad, Lapid 'in direct talks' over Iranian military presence in Syria: report
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid are in direct communication over the Iranian military presence in Syria, according to an article by a veteran Israel war correspondent published in Ynet News.
Ron Ben-Yishai said on Saturday that Lapid had offered Assad guarantees that Israeli strikes on Syria will not target regime forces, instead focusing on Iran-backed militias.
Ben-Yishai’s claims followed an Israeli airstrike targeting the runways of Aleppo Airport last week and a similar strike on Damascus International Airport in June.
Following both strikes, Israeli media said that they were in response to Iranian militias trying to smuggle advanced weapons systems through the two airports.
Iran has been a key backer of the Assad regime since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, sending militiamen to fight alongside regime forces against rebels.
Russia has also intervened militarily on the Assad regime’s side, enabling it to claw back huge swathes of territory once held by Syrian rebels and extremist groups.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria since 2011.
Ben-Yishai cited a recent Russian demand that Iran and its allied militias pull back from positions in southwestern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as evidence that Israeli pressure to reduce Iran’s presence and influence in the country was working.
He also quoted a “senior Israeli security official” as saying that Israel had managed to thwart “the vast majority” of Iranian arms shipments to its allied militias in Syria and that the Iranian presence in Syria was now at an “unprecedented low”.
Ben Yishai also said that the Israeli strikes on civilian airports and military facilities in Syria were seriously harming the Assad regime’s prestige and ability to control Syria, after it managed to regain control of 70% of the country with crucial Russian support.
He said that while Russia had a strategic interest in shoring up the Assad regime’s control of Syria, Assad had underestimated how much damage the war in Ukraine had weakened Russia’s ability to help him.
Russia, he claimed, would not be able to deter Israel from carrying out strikes in Syria despite publicly condemning them and coming to a “de-confliction agreement” with Israel regarding Syria.