Russia’s ambassador to Israel on Monday described as unrealistic Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated demands that Iranian forces and their allies be expelled from Syria.
Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime alongside Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah -- two sworn enemies of Israel.
“The Iranians are playing a very, very important role in our common efforts to eliminate the terrorists in Syria,” Anatoly Viktorov said in English-language comments on Israel’s private Channel 10 broadcaster.
“That’s why, for this period of time, we see as non-realistic demands to expel any foreign troops from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said.
Anatoly said Iran’s presence in Syria was “fully legitimate according to UN principles”.
Asked about the possibility of Russia expelling the Iranians from the war-hit country, the ambassador replied: “No, we cannot force them”.
Viktorov said Russia was “not okay” with the use of “force” by the Israeli government.
Air attacks often attributed to Israel have repeatedly struck Iranian targets or those of its ally Hezbollah in Syria.
The diplomat continued by saying Russia “cannot persuade Israel how to proceed” in Syria.
“It is not up to Russia to give (Israel) freedom to do anything or to prohibit anything,” he said.
Last Monday at a Jerusalem meeting between Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia offered to keep Iranian forces 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Syria’s border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to an Israeli official.
The ambassador refused to confirm information about the deal.
Netanyahu in recent months has increased demands that Iran withdraw from Syria and not entrench itself militarily.
While it has been careful not to be dragged into the conflict next door, Israel has on several occasions struck Syrian territory -- including convoys of weapons it says are bound for Hezbollah.
Israel has been on high alert since June 19, when Syrian government forces launched an offensive to retake southern Daraa and Quneitra provinces, the latter of which includes the divided Golan Heights.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, in a move never recognized internationally. The two countries technically remain still at war.
Russian envoy rejects Israel demand to expel Iran from Syria