A MiG-29 fighter jet performs a manoeuvre as the Russian national flag flies in the foreground.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and Russia agreed to a create a mechanism to prevent accidental confrontation between their forces in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a meeting on the outskirts of Moscow Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu, in a phone briefing with Israeli diplomatic reporters after the meeting, said it was devoted entirely to the complicated situation on Israel’s northern border.
“I made clear our policy to try to prevent through various means the transfer of lethal weapons from Syria to Hezbollah, which is actually done at the direction of Iran,” said Netanyahu, who spent just a few hours in Russia for the meeting before flying immediately back to Israel.
Netanyahu said the purpose of the meeting was to prevent “misunderstandings” between IDF and Russian forces. “We established a mechanism to prevent those misunderstandings,” he said, without elaborating. “This is something very important for Israel’s security.”
In a rare move, Netanyahu was accompanied on his visit by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot and Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen.
Herzl Halevi. Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin also joined the trip to serve as an interpreter.
Netanyahu said Putin recognizes Israel’s right to fight against the forces Iran is arming.
The premier said he also told Putin, “in an unequivocal manner,” that Israel would not tolerate Iran’s arming of its proxies on Israel’s borders, and that Israel will take all actions it needs to prevent this.
“This is our right and obligation,” Netanyahu said, adding that there was no disagreement on that point from the Russians. Netanyahu also said that it was made clear that, regardless of Russia’s intentions in Syria, it will not be involved in Iran’s “extreme action against us.”
Netanyahu said that along with the necessary confrontations against Iranian aggression, “we don’t want to pile on ourselves an unnecessary and dangerous confrontation with Russia. That was the primary achievement of the discussion between us. It would have been enough to think of the alternative, dealing with misunderstandings after they occur, to understand the importance of this visit.”
Netanyahu said his trip was in no way intended as any kind of signal to the US, and that he coordinated the visit with the US and briefed Washington on its purpose – to prevent any accidental incidents with Russia in Syria.
In public statements prior to the meeting, Putin indicated that the Syrian Army is in no position to open up an additional front, and “has enough to do just trying to save Syria’s own statehood.”
Putin’s comments, which the Prime Minister’s Office and the Kremlin translated slightly differently, came after Netanyahu said that the purpose of his visit to Russia was to discuss with Putin the “increasingly complicated situation” on Israel’s northern border.
“Over the last number of years, and even more so over the last few months, Iran and Syria are arming the radical Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah with advanced weaponry that is directed at us, and has already been fired at us,” Netanyahu said alongside Putin.
In parallel, Netanyahu said, Iran – under the cover of the Syrian army – is trying to “build a second terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights.”
Netanyahu said Israel’s declared position is to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and also prevent a new front on the Golan.
“For these reasons I thought it was very important to come here, both in order to make clear our positions, and also to ensure that there will not be any misunderstandings between our forces,” Netanyahu said.
Putin, in response, said Russia’s actions in the region are “always very responsible.” He said he is aware that Israel has been fired upon from Syria, and has condemned that, but added that those weapons were locally produced. With that, he said that he understood Israel’s concerns.
The Russian president said that he never forgets that there are a “great many” immigrants from the former Soviet Union living in Israel, and that this is something that gives the relationship between the two countries an “extra dimension.”