Netanyahu Presses Superpowers to Remove Iranian Forces from Syria

JERUSALEM — Hosting an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday of the Russian, American and Israeli national security advisers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pressed for ridding Syria of all foreign forces, in particular Iranians and their proxies across Israel’s northern frontier.

With the eight-year Syrian civil war winding down, Mr. Netanyahu said, “I believe that there is a wider basis for cooperation between the three of us than many believe.”

This meeting, he said, the first of national security advisers from all three countries, provides “a real opportunity” to advance stability in the region, “and particularly in Syria.”

The meeting took place against the backdrop of spiraling tensions between the United States and Iran after Iran’s downing last week of an American surveillance drone and Iran’s threats to exceed the limits on its uranium supply set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

An immediate breakthrough on Syria or any other issue was unlikely at the meeting, given the complex and often competing interests of each of the participants. And missing from the room, of course, were any representatives from Iran, which has good relations with Russia and none with Israel or the United States.

But for Israel, hosting the tripartite discussions, and having its national security adviser participate on an equal footing, was regarded as an achievement in itself, enhancing the country’s role in international diplomacy.

It provided a boost for Mr. Netanyahu as he battles on political and legal fronts, facing possible corruption charges and a second election in September because he failed to form a viable coalition after an April ballot.

“We didn’t come with the expectation we were going to solve all the problems, or even most of them,” said John R. Bolton, the American national security adviser. He spoke at a news conference after having met with his counterparts, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai P. Patrushev, and the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Pointing to what he described as Iranian involvement in other areas of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, Mr. Bolton said the gathering in Jerusalem “helps everyone understand what the various positions are and we’ll go from there.”

Mr. Bolton, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Patrushev also held a series of bilateral meetings. Mr. Bolton wrote on Twitter that in his meeting with Mr. Patrushev on Monday, they and their teams “covered Ukraine, arms control, Venezuela, and other issues.”

Mr. Bolton said he hoped the meeting in Jerusalem, which he described as “historic,” would help lay the foundation for the G-20 summit meeting taking place later this week in Osaka, Japan. There, he said, many of the same issues will be discussed, adding that President Trump was looking forward to meeting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Netanyahu, who maintains a close relationship with Mr. Putin, thanked the Russians for working closely with Israel on a mechanism that allows Israel to act in Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons from Iran to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, while not putting Russian forces in harm’s way.

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel had “acted hundreds of times” to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and the transfer of weapons, a reference to Israeli airstrikes in Syria carried out clandestinely.

Israel and Russia appear to have overcome a crisis last year, when Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military plane after an Israeli airstrike on Syrian territory.

But American, Israeli and Russian interests in Syria still fundamentally differ. Russia and Iran helped President Bashar al-Assad of Syria gain the upper hand in a civil war that began in 2011.

“While we all want to see stability in Syria, some of us like the Assad regime more than others,” said Eran Lerman, a former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council.

Mr. Lerman said the Russians “support him, we certainly do not and the Americans abhor him.”

But there are now growing gaps between the Russians and the Iranians over the future of Syria. And at the end of the day, Mr. Lerman added: “There’s a fact of life. The Assad regime has stabilized the situation in much of Syria.”

Mr. Patrushev said that Moscow and Tehran were cooperating in the fight against terrorism.

“We have a mutual possibility to influence each other and we have an opportunity to listen to each other,” he said.

“We understand Israel’s concerns and we want the existing threats to be eliminated so that Israel’s security be ensured,” he said. “At the same time, we should remember that other regional states also have their national interests.”

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