Russia assures Israel: We're not passing weapons to Hezbollah

Following internal probe of its military, Russia tells Israel that it is not passing weapons on to Hezbollah.

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Russian anti-aircraft missile battery (file)
Russian anti-aircraft missile battery (file)
Reuters

An internal Russian probe has determined that Israeli fears of Russia passing arms to the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah are baseless. The Israeli ambassador to Moscow, Zvi Heifetz, relayed the findings to a Knesset committee and added that the relations between the two countries "are flourishing in an unprecedented manner."

The assurance came following a few weeks of concern by Israel that Russia had been supplying Hezbollah with weapons, as the two are working together to help bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Russia made assurances to Israel that it did not and will not transfer any weapons to the terrorist organization that is in de facto control of a large area of Lebanon. Israel’s ambassador to Moscow made the report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday. 

Heifetz's briefing is the first time in years that an ambassador personally briefed the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee regarding the state of the relationship between Israel and the country in which he serves.

While the committee meeting was classified, Haaretz reports that Heifetz told the panel how Moscow’s promise was sparked by an international media report a few weeks ago. The report asserted that Russia was supplying arms to Hezbollah as part of its ongoing operations in Syria, where it is working in conjunction with Iran and the Assad regime.

The original media report that appeared in the Daily Beast quoted Hezbollah fighters and commanders who said Russia was providing a variety of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah including surface-to-surface missiles, laser-guided rockets and Russian-made antitank missiles. Furthermore the report claimed that Russia had placed no conditions on the use of the weapons and that Moscow had gone so far as to ask Hezbollah to guard its arsenals in Syria, thereby giving Hezbollah access to all the weapons stored there.

Heifetz stressed that, due to the report, the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv had reached out to senior officials in Israel's Foreign Minister and told them the reports were false. The Russian ambassador stressed that the Russian government conducted an internal investigation of the issue and it verified that no arms were passed from Russian troops in Syria to Hezbollah.

Heifetz reportedly said in the meeting that "there is an open line between us and the Russians on every level. We made our red lines known clear to the Russians regarding Syria and the involvement by Iran and Hezbollah. When we have any concerns, we discuss them."

It is also noteworthy that the ambassador added in his report to the committee members that Russia’s involvement in Syria is based upon their own strategic interests, rather than due to an ideological alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The Russian view is that Assad creates stability, and therefore, they want to bolster him. Assad currently serves Russia’s interests, but not at any price."

Heifetz reportedly also said that Russia is looking for a way to resolve the Syrian crisis and has no interest in maintaining its massive military presence in Syria for a long period of time.