Sputnik discussed the prospects of normalizing the situation following the tragic incident with Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security advisor in Israel, now a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center.
Sputnik: Israel and Syria have traded accusations of complicity in the plane downing. What implications could these tensions have for the fragile situation in the Middle East?
This was really a case where the Syrians shot down the plane, so this shouldn't have an effect on the Russian-Israeli relations.
The bigger question is how do we prevent Iran from continuing its efforts to really try and set up base in Syria and try and largely take over Syria, turn it into an Iranian protector and as a base for operations against Israel. If the Iranians stop doing that and if Hezbollah stops doing that there won't be a problem.
Sputnik: Do you think that the Iranian situation that you've just alluded to could be further calmed by further interaction by the Russian side, what's the base prognosis from your point of view then?
Chuck Freilich: I think the two primary players in Syria today other than, of course, President Assad himself, are Russia and the Iranians, and I think Russia has even greater influence over events, but Iran, because it initially stepped in to save the regime and actually they have a strategic relationship that goes back for decades, Iran also is a major player there, and I think Russia can play the most significant role in trying to bring about.
I don't know about a peaceful resolution because what's happening in Syria is anything but peaceful, but to try to reach a political resolution in the end and in preventing a regional crisis. Russia can use its good officers with the Iranians to try and get them to back off if not completely then at least significantly.
Sputnik: Now we know the situation recently, because of this tragic loss of life with the Russian plane, has further exacerbated the situation to a certain degree; however, President Putin has shown his humility and very commonsense approach — how would you assess the way Israel has tackled the situation around the plane incident?
Chuck Freilich: Well I think it's been quite effective. First of all, Israel has already presented initial evidence and has sent a special delegation to Moscow headed by the commander of the Air Force and other senior officers to now present the really detailed information.
But President Putin, as I said, he already accepted the Israeli explanation in advance and frankly there wasn't much of an Israeli explanation that was needed here because Russian capabilities picked up the picture on their own and the picture was quite simple: Israeli aircraft were no longer in the area when this happened, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles tragically shot down this Russian aircraft.
Sputnik: What's your prognosis for this situation? I mean the situation on the ground in Syria, from what we're hearing, is that the war is almost at an end, there's just this final conflict, this final push to rid ISIS within the Idlib area, the Russians and the Turkish have come up with a recent agreement originating this zone free of conflict — how would you like this particular situation to be concluded?
And I think that the Assad regime will soon be in control of most of Syria except for the eastern part where the Kurds and the US are still there, but Russia is still the major player in Syria, and the question is again what kind of future Russia and Syria view here.
If Iran is going to be allowed to continue its efforts to set up air, ground and naval bases of its own in Syria in addition to a Hezbollah presence there, then I think we're going to see an going conflict with Israel. Israel has already committed publicly to doing what it can to prevent this from happening, to prevent these bases from being established.
I'm usually the guy who takes the very cautious and restrained approach in terms of Israeli policy and here is a case where I must say I don't think Israel can allow this to happen, this threat is simply unacceptable, especially since we have to take into account that Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions and a nuclear Iran with a forward presence in Syria — that's not something Israel can tolerate.
The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.