THE TIES between Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been characterized as straightforward, open and built on personal trust.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday to discuss Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, something he has failed to convince either Moscow or Washington is a clear danger that should not be allowed.
Netanyahu, who will be accompanied on his fourth trip to Russia in 16 months by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and new National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabat, huddled in his office on Tuesday with senior security officials preparing for the meeting.
Iran’s accelerated attempt to establish a military presence in Syria, the prime minister said after the meeting, “attests to Iran’s aggression, which has not lessened in the wake of the  nuclear agreement. This also presents a problem not only to Israel, but rather to all the nations of the Middle East and the entire world.”
The trip to Moscow comes less than a week after Cohen led a delegation of senior Israeli officials to Washington for meetings there with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top US officials regarding the same issue.
Israel has come out clearly against the cease-fire
brokered in Syria between Russia and the United States, fearing that it will enshrine a permanent Iranian military presence in the country. Neither Moscow nor Washington, however, have apparently been moved to alter their positions because of Israel’s concerns. According to a number of reports, the team that visited Washington last week returned to Israel empty handed and without any US pledges that a cease-fire in Syria would lead to the evacuation of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the country.
If Jerusalem has not convinced Washington, its strongest ally, about this matter, it is even less likely to convince Moscow. For this reason, former National Security Council adviser Yaakov Amidror said the prime minister’s primary objective during his talks with Putin should be to let him know what Israel plans to do if Tehran tries to set up such a permanent military presence in Syria.
The main goal of the meeting, said Amidror, currently a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, who has remained in contact with Netanyahu, needs to be for the Russians to have a better understanding of Israel’s concerns and redlines, and how Israel is likely to react if those redlines are crossed.
“Israel is not coordinating with the Russians, but it’s very important for Israel that the Russians understand where Israel stands,” he said in a phone call with the Israel Project.
Israel should not try to convince Putin, but rather what is important is to make sure that if Israel is forced to act in the future, “the Russians will not be surprised.”
Amidror, who has sat in on numerous meetings such as these in the past, said Netanyahu will bring to Putin all of Israel’s “facts, assessments and concerns” so that the Russian leader will be able to take them into account. This way, he continued, if Israel feels compelled to act, the Russians – though they might not agree – will understand why it happened.
Amidror defined two issues as being of critical importance to Israel
in the future arrangements in Syria. The first is that Iran will not have the ability to build bases there that will serve as a launching pad against Israel in the future, and the second is that Syria will not turn into a state through which “game changing” weapons – including Russian weapons systems – are moved into the region.
“It should be well understood all over, mainly in Moscow, that Israel will do whatever is needed not to let the Iranians build these bases, and not to let Hezbollah get these weapons systems,” he said. “These are the two main concerns of Israel and they should be very clear in this meeting.”
Last month, Amidror said that Israel may need to take military action to prevent Iran or Hezbollah from setting up permanent bases in Syria