Jun 2, 2019

U.S. tells Russia it backs Israeli airstrikes in Syria as long as Iran stays

Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images

The Trump administration has made it clear to the Kremlin that the U.S. fully supports Israeli airstrikes in Syria while Iranian forces, Hezbollah and pro-Iranian militias are still operating in the country, a senior U.S. official told me.

Why it matters: Israel airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria continue every other week. Last night, a rocket was fired from Syria and landed in an Israeli military base on the border with Syria in the northern part of the Golan Heights. Israeli intelligence services think it was likely fired by pro-Iranian militia in Syria, and the Israeli air force retaliated against Syrian military bases. According to reports, three Syrian soldiers and seven non-Syrian militiamen were killed.

Details: The senior U.S. official told me that State Department and White House officials have conveyed the message to the Russians several times in the last few months. The U.S. official added that the broader message to the Russians was that withdrawal of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria isn't just an Israeli demand, but an American one too.

The big picture: Three weeks from now, Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will host a trilateral summit in Jerusalem with his U.S. counterpart John Bolton and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev. This will be an unprecedented event.

Israeli officials told me the summit will focus on Syria and Iran. They added that they wanted to host this dialogue and have worked on it for a long time because they want to see the U.S. and Russia work together on a political solution in Syria that will push Iranian forces out of the country.

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Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.