TEL AVIV – Iran and Hezbollah, along with other armed groups aiding Damascus in the Syrian civil war, will leave as soon as the war is over, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister told the Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“I understand the fears of Israel relating to Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, and you of course fear that they will stay in Syria after the war,” Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov, who is on a visit to Israel, said.
Israel has demanded that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah be left out of any Russian-led ceasefires in Syria, citing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and its threats against the Jewish state. Jerusalem further called on Moscow to prevent Syria from becoming a weapons conduit to Hezbollah, deemed a terrorist organization by the EU and the U.S., but not Russia.
“For us, Hezbollah is part of the politics of Lebanon, and an important part of the population of Lebanon supports them and they are a part of the parliament,” Syromolotov said. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is also part of the military structure of Iran.”
“For that reason, there is no way to put them on the list of international terrorists,” he added.
In Russia’s view, the Syrian war is one between a sovereign government and its opposition, and terrorists. The problem, according to Syromolotov, is that the U.S. does not distinguish between opponents of President Bashar Al Assad and terrorists.
“Russia claims that Syria’s conflict cannot be solved through military means only,” said Syromolotov.
“One of the central issues is to separate the opposition from the terrorists, and in the last year we have tried with the Americans to come to an agreement on this and the Americans did not manage to make this distinction between the opposition and terrorists and it didn’t happen.”
As part of his role as head of the ministry’s counter-terrorism unit, Syromolotov is in Israel to discuss ways his country can work together with Jerusalem to combat terror.
“Both the Russian Federation and Israel have experience with the fight against terrorism and that is based on hard work and human resources and [terrorist] events that happened before and continue to happen,” he said.
Information sharing was crucial if the countries are to succeed in fighting terror, he said.
However, he added that “if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end, then the terrorist organizations in the Middle East would not multiply.”
As is the case with Hezbollah, Moscow does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, but rather “part of Palestinian politics,” Syromolotov said.
The deputy minister said he has hopes for Russia’s relations with the U.S.:
“During the first conversation between President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump, the issue of terrorism came up and they actively discussed this issue, and of course we know that in this situation, that it is a new government and it will want cooperation against terrorism. We think that the position of Russia and the U.S. are most important in fighting terrorism, and I think that there will be positive changes.”