Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was extremely evasive in his comments to Arab journalists about the Israeli operations in Syria.
In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram ahead of his visit to Egypt, Lavrov answered many questions concerning Russia-Egypt relations and developments in the Middle East.
One of the questions he was asked was whether Moscow’s stance on the “Israel’s ongoing bombardments of Syrian territory” had grown “softer” compared to its stance in 2018, when a Russian surveillance aircraft was shot down as an indirect result of an Israeli missile attack on Syria.
“There have been no changes in our position of principle concerning the bombardment of Syrian territory. We have always clearly expressed our attitude in this regard. Our view is based on the need for a strict respect of Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. We oppose the conversion of this country’s territory into an arena for armed conflict between various regional players,” Lavrov said.
The foreign minister also said that, in its contact with all concerned parties, Russia highlights “the importance of preventing outbursts of tension and a dangerous escalation of the situation in Syria, which would entail negative consequences not only for the neighboring countries, but for the Middle East region as a whole”.
The Egyptian journalists pointed out that Lavrov’s response did not constitute a clear condemnation of Israel, and could even be taken as a jab at Iran.
Relations between Israel and Russia have improved notably in recent times. With the West effectively removing itself from Syria, leaving it to Russia, Iran and Turkey, Israel has been forced to establish independent relations with Russia as the top dog in the Syrian arena.
Israel-Russia relations took a blow in September 2018 when an Israeli airstrike resulted in a Russian aircraft being shot down – even though it was shot down by Syrian aerial defenses. However, the relationship appears to have been restored following a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow last week. Shortly thereafter, it was learned that Russia would help to repatriate the remains of the Israeli soldier Zechariah Baumel, who was killed in the 1982 Lebanon War.
Apparently the anti-Israel party in the Russian establishment has been unable to get the Kremlin to adopt a clearly anti-Israel and pro-Arab policy. Even Egyptian journalists were unable to get the Russian foreign minister to condemn Israel in any way.