Israel and Russia’s leaders must coordinate closely to deal with friction between their countries’ militaries operating in close proximity and keep small problems from turning into much larger ones, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday in Moscow.
Netanyahu’s comments to diplomatic reporters by phone from Moscow came at the end of a two-and-a-halfhour meeting he had with Putin in the Kremlin. He acknowledged that despite a “deconfliction” mechanism he set up with Putin in September, there has been some friction and problems that needed to be dealt with. He did not spell them out.
“We must remember there is a war being waged beyond our border,” he said. “We don’t always pay attention to that, but we [Israel and Russia] are discussing this regularly.”
Netanyahu said that in light of security issues that he raised with Putin, the Russian leader recommended that OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, as well as Netanyahu’s military attaché, Brig.-Gen.
Eliezer Toledano – who both accompanied Netanyahu to Moscow – hold an immediate meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and senior Russian generals.
“They went there and discussed in detail the coordination between our armies on a number of issues that have been on the agenda,” Netanyahu said. “That is important because we must preserve the freedom of action of the IDF and the air force in areas that are important for our security. And I think that was achieved.”
Netanyahu said “problems naturally arise” when two militaries are operating so close to one another, and that “if you don’t deal with that friction, it could develop into something much more serious, as we saw on another front.”
Netanyahu was referring to the downing last year by Turkey of a Russian plane, something that sent relations between Moscow and Ankara spiraling downward.
During statements to the press before the meeting, Netanyahu repeated in Putin’s presence what he said on the Golan Heights on Sunday: that the strategic plateau will always remain part of Israel.
“We will not go back to the days when they fired at our communities and at our children from atop the Heights,” Netanyahu said. “Therefore, with or without a [Syrian] agreement, the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Putin, who along with Iran is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest backer, did not respond to Netanyahu’s comments publicly.
Netanyahu said earlier this week that his comments about the Golan Heights are necessary because a draft for a Syrian peace agreement circulated by the UN special envoy calls in its very first clause for Israel to return the Golan to Syria. What he is trying to do, he said, is get the world used to the idea that Israel has no intention of returning the Golan Heights to Syria.
Even though this, and issues such as the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and arms shipments to Iran, were raised, the premier said he had come to Moscow with one central goal: “to strengthen the security coordination between us to prevent mistakes, misunderstandings and unnecessary accidents” between Israeli and Russian forces.
“During our last meeting I presented to you our security policy regarding our northern border,” Netanyahu told Putin, referring to a meeting the two held on the sidelines of the Paris climate conference in November.
“Israel has clear redlines for our self-defense,” he said. “First of all, we are acting to the best of our ability to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Secondly, we are working to prevent the establishment of an additional terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights. These are our red lines, and we will continue to maintain them.”
This was Netanyahu’s third meeting with Putin since September, an indication of the close coordination that is taking place between the two countries as a result of Moscow’s involvement in Syria. The premier said he will return to Moscow for another visit on June 7.
During that visit, marking 25 years to the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Netanyahu said he would sign a long sought-after agreement with Moscow to pay pensions to immigrants in Israel from the former Soviet Union.
According to Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who also joined Netanyahu and served as his translator, while some 30,000 immigrants from the FSU already receive a pension from Russia, the new agreement will secure pensions for another 30,000 who up until now have not received Russian pension funds.
Netanyahu pointed out during his comments alongside Putin that there were currently more than a million native Russian speakers living in Israel, and that they serve as a “living bridge between our two peoples.”