Iran Says Fighters Won't Leave Syria Despite Russia's Deal With Israel

A top Iranian military official has said that his country’s troops will not withdraw from Syria, despite reports that Russia and Israel had reached a deal that would see Iranian militias retreat from the southern part of the country.

“Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda measures of anyone,” Iran’s Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri said Sunday, according to local media. “The Zionist regime’s greatest fear is the proximity of Muslim fighters near its border. It has come to pass. Now that this has come true, the U.S. and Israel are making desperate efforts to change the situation. But they should know that this condition is not going to change,” Jazayeri added.

Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, and for years the leadership in Tehran has called for Israel’s destruction. As the war in Syria has dragged on from 2011 until today, Iran's military advisers have worked with the leadership in Syria's capital Damascus, while Iran's militias have gained a foothold in the country, including in areas that border Israel. This has unnerved Israel, which recently began launching strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. 

Reports last week claimed that Russia and Israel had reached a deal that would see Iranian militia fighters retreat at least 15 miles from the border separating Syria and Israel. Moscow had called for all non-Syrian fighters to move away from Israel’s borders in order to quell fighting between Israel and Iranian militias. Russia is the Syrian regime’s biggest ally and enjoys a substantial amount of influence in the war-ravaged country. Russian officials were reportedly worried that fighting between Israel and Iran could undermine the position of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.  

Iran and Russia currently maintain friendly relations, and Moscow has stressed that Tehran can play an important role in Syria both now and in the future, but that does not appear to have been enough to convince Tehran to move its fighters. Iran is investing in Syria's infrastructure and appears determined to maintain a long-term presence in the country.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kicked off a three-day visit to Europe, where he is lobbying for Germany, France and the U.K. to renege on their end of the Iran nuclear deal and sideline Tehran. "I'll raise two issues: Iran and Iran," Netanyahu told reporters prior to his trip. 

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