Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a closed hearing on Monday that Russia recently proposed to Israel and the US that Iran be granted relief from some US sanctions that were imposed on it, in return for the removal of Iranian forces and proxies from Syria, Axios reports Tuesday.
Netanyahu's statements came during a hearing of the Foreign affairs and Security Committee of the Knesset, according to the report.
MKs who attended the hearing said Netanyahu did not say whether the Russian proposal was made during his short conversation with President Vladimir Putin in Paris last Sunday, but that it definitely seemed that way from the prime minister's comments.
Iranian retrenchment in Syria is a huge concern for Israel, but the Russian position until now has been, at least publicly, that Iran's presence is legitimate because it came at the Assad regime's invitation. This is the first we're hearing that the Russians have floated an idea for Iran's withdrawal, and that they're linking it to US sanctions.
US President Donald Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and has since imposed two rounds of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Russia and other European signatories to the 2015 deal did not agree with Trump’s decision to leave the agreement and have been trying to save the accord.
The MKs quoted in the report said Netanyahu spoke favorably about his meeting with Putin, and said the Russians cannot push the Iranians out of Syria on their own, but need help from other world powers.
According to the members of Knesset who attended the hearing, Netanyahu said Russia and the US were discussing ways to limit Iranian influence in Syria — including the Russian proposal on sanctions relief.
Netanyahu said that on November 8, U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey met in Vienna with Russian officials to discuss the issue. On November 5, three days before the Vienna meeting, Netanyahu met Jeffrey in Jerusalem.
During the hearing, Netanyahu was asked if Israel had expressed a position on the Russian proposal. He said it was at the moment only an idea, and that Israel hasn't formulated a policy on it.
The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment on this story. A senior State Department official told Axios, "We remain engaged with the UN and other parties, including Russia, to encourage all possible efforts to advance the political track as called for in UNSCR 2254. We do not however discuss the substance of these diplomatic discussions."