17:19 GMT +325 June 2018
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    Syria: Can Russia Balance Iran and Israel?

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    Andrew Korybko
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    The escalating proxy conflict between regional rivals Israel and Iran in Syria is fast approaching a fever pitch, and Russia's literally stuck in the middle as the only country with any chance of balancing between these two.

    Israel has bombed the Arab Republic over 100 times since the beginning of its 2011 conflict on the alleged basis that it's targeting either Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops or their Hezbollah allies, with many of these strikes having taken place since Russia's 2015 anti-terrorist military intervention and coordinated with Moscow per a so-called "deconfliction mechanism" signed in September of that year. The Russian Ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein confirmed this just as recently as last week when he said that "We are mutually coordinating and updating about Syria… So far, there have been no incidents between us, nor even hints at incidents, and I hope there will not be".

    To be clear, Russia is not implying any active role in identifying suspected IRGC or Hezbollah targets on Israel's behalf, but is merely saying that it is made aware of attacks at least right before they happen so that there isn't any "misunderstanding" between the two militaries that results in either the death of Russian servicemen or the shooting down of Israel's missiles or aircraft.

    This is admittedly a very tricky situation for Russia because it also militarily cooperates with Iran against Daesh and other terrorist groups in the Arab Republic, and Moscow and Tehran are two of the three Great Powers of the Multipolar Tripartite alongside Turkey that was formalized through the Astana peace process that they all contribute to. The two countries also recently agreed to the establishment of a short-term free trade area between their economies, and Russia has been instrumental to the development of Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program. Russian-Iranian relations are better than they've ever been on a bilateral level, which is why Moscow's military coordination with Tel Aviv in Syria — however indirect and passive it may be — is such a sensitive issue for Tehran, as the resultant misunderstandings that that could develop between these two because of it might jeopardize all that they've worked so hard to achieve.

    Russia is therefore walking a fine line in balancing between Iran and Israel in Syria, a remarkable diplomatic-military feat that's becoming more important than ever now that the two enemies are on the verge of taking their proxy war with one another to an unprecedented level, and there's a lot of weight on Moscow's shoulders to make sure that things don't get much worse anytime soon.

    Casey Washer, who teaches Jewish history and Hebrew at a Jewish private school, and Ahmad Noroozi, PhD candidate at Tehran University and political commentator, shared their opinions.

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    Iran, Israel, Syria, Russia
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