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    Israel Will Never Do Harm to 'Friendly Iranian People' – Ex-Diplomat

    © AFP 2018 / GIL COHEN-MAGEN
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    Israel does not consider the people of Iran its enemy, Zvi Magen, diplomat, ex-Israeli ambassador to Russia told Sputnik, sharing his views on Tel Aviv's attitude towards Tehran, the idea of creating an Arab NATO, and Russo-Israeli interaction in Syria.

    Tel Aviv does not seek to inflict damage on the Iranian people, said Zvi Magen, diplomat, ex-Israeli ambassador to Russia (1998) and an employee of the intelligence department of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), while speaking with Sputnik on the sidelines of the eighth Middle East conference of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

    "First, Israel has never regarded the Iranian people as an adversary", the Israeli scholar stated. "We are bound by a very long history of mutual friendship that ceased to exist because of the interests of the current leadership of Iran. They decided that Israel should be seen as a threat and an enemy and mobilised various resources to pursue their interests in the region. But I believe that for Iran, Israel in fact is not the goal in the region: It is only a handy lever for promoting other domestic and regional issues".

    Second, the Islamic Republic's regional policy includes direct conflicts with Israel including through their "proxies", Magen claimed, referring to Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shiite militant group. According to the scholar, "there is also the Iranian military presence in Syria, where they are trying to build infrastructure against Israel".

    Tehran has repeatedly refuted the claims that it has either deployed its troops on the ground in Syria or established military bases in the country.

    "Third, Iran does not conceal the fact that it is developing various types of weapons, including those of mass destruction, which threaten Israel", he opined. "And therefore we are pursuing a certain policy in the region, declaring that Israel will not allow anyone to achieve this [goal]".

    According to the findings by the International Atomic Energy Association, Iran was in compliance with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and has not enriched more uranium-235 than was permitted by the accords, which makes it incapable of creating the weapons of mass destruction in the near term.

    Having said that Tehran is openly threatening Israel with annihilation, the diplomat underscored that Tel Aviv would prefer to use peaceful diplomatic measures to prevent a direct confrontation.

    "[Israel] does not seek conflict and does not aim to harm the Iranian people", Magen stressed. "There is a political dispute in Israel about what to do with Iran, in case [Tel Aviv] is forced [into a direct military conflict]. And the majority of the participants of this dispute are in favour of acting in a way that would prevent punishing the friendly Iranian people".

    He highlighted that Israel is "the leading military power in the Middle East, which is able to fight and destroy any state in the region", adding that "otherwise it would not have survived".

    "Iran does not possess such military capabilities as Israel does", the diplomat opined. "Yes, they have made progress and technological breakthroughs in certain military areas, but in general, Iran's military capabilities are not on par with those of [Israel]".

    Israel and 'Arab NATO'

    Commenting on the potential creation of an Arab NATO, Magen confirmed that Tel Aviv is considering cooperating with such a body: "These talks are underway", he said. However, the diplomat dismissed the assumption that Israel sees it as the leverage against Iran. According to him, this is "an opportunity to make friends with Arab neighbours".

    The scholar pointed out that for decades Israel has been an "easy target" in the eyes of Middle Eastern nations who routinely pin the blame on Tel Aviv for the region's problems.

    "Therefore, for many years Israel has been trying to get out of this vicious circle and live in peace with its neighbours", Magen pointed out adding that Tel Aviv had managed to peacefully co-exist with Egypt and Jordan and establish ties with "some other" countries in the region.

    "One can say that a process of convergence is going on", he said. "Therefore, the leaders of the Arab countries, one by one, invite Prime Minister B. Netanyahu, meet with him, and discuss the possibility [of building relations]".

    Magen admitted that the Palestinian issue remains high on the agenda and opined that it can be solved: "The principle approach is changing, because goals, interests, and objective strategic conditions are changing in the region", he said. "In this context, the leadership of Arab countries is reconsidering the question with whom and against whom to ally".

    Israel Remains Neutral in Great Power Game in Syria

    Referring to Russia's involvement in Syrian affairs, the diplomat admitted that Moscow had managed to reach agreements with various regional players, including Turkey, Sunni Arab states, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel.

    "There is a treaty that guaranteed Russia Israel's neutrality, despite the fact that [Tel Aviv] is a fairly tough player that can spoil anyone's game", Magen said.

    He noted that during the three and a half years of Russia's military actions in the region, Israel did not interfere.

    According to the diplomat there is a mutual understanding between Russia and Israel that Moscow does not interfere in Tel Aviv's conflict with Iran.

    Magen highlighted that Israel did not participate in a "global game" in Syria, "despite the fact that Israel is a strategic ally of the United States": "It remained neutral, although the security of its borders was at stake", he stressed.

    The diplomat emphasised that Tel Aviv and Moscow continue to maintain working relations despite the accidental downing of a Russian Il-20 surveillance plane in Syrian airspace on 17 September 2018 by a Syrian S-200. The Russian Ministry of Defence blamed Israeli F-16 fighters of using the Russian aircraft as a cover. Tel Aviv vehemently denied the accusations.

    Commenting on the upcoming meeting between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu that was postponed for several days, the diplomat suggested that the two are likely "to discuss the coordination of joint or separate actions in Syria", on how to resolve the conflict and what the future political order in the country will be.

    Zvi Magen is an ex-Israeli ambassador to Russia (1998), employee of the intelligence department of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) of Tel Aviv University.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    'Arab NATO', Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Il-20, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Iran, Syria, Russia, Middle East, Jordan, Egypt
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