Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that focused on the situation in Syria, amid concerns that Moscow could soon provide Damascus with a cutting edge missile defense system.
Israeli officials have asked Russia to stop what they say is an imminent delivery of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Syria. Netanyahu pushed for the meeting, which came hard on his return from a trip to China, because of the urgency of Israel’s concerns about the S-300 system.
Putin told Netanyahu at the start of their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that they would have a chance to talk about Syria. Neither leader mentioned the missiles in brief opening remarks.
According to Haaretz, military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi joined Netanyahu on his trip and briefed Putin on Israel’s intel assessment of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use. He also filled the president in on Israel’s information concerning Syria’s transfer of arms to Hezbollah.
Moscow’s overriding message to Netanyahu, however, was one of restraint and political, rather than military, means of resolving the two-year conflict. While Putin and Netanyahu acknowledged that the ongoing violence in Syria is detrimental to the entire region, the Russian president said that the only way to resolve the crisis was “the soonest end to armed conflict and the beginning of political settlement,” Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
“Only a quick cessation of hostilities and a political settlement can prevent a negative scenario,” Putin said. “At this sensitive moment, it’s particularly important to avoid any action that could destabilize the situation.”
Netanyahu, however, said that the volatile situation in the Middle East requires action to improve security. “The region around us is very unstable and explosive, and therefore I am glad for the opportunity to examine together new ways to stabilize the area and bring security and stability to the area,” he said. The prime minister’s bottom line was that “Israel will do whatever it takes to defend its citizens.”
Russia has continued to ship weapons to Syria, despite the civil war there, but it so far has refrained from providing Damascus with the S-300s, a powerful weapon that has a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles), can intercept fighter jets and cruise missiles, and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously with lethal efficiency.
The weapon would mean a quantum leap in Syria’s air defense capability, including against neighboring countries that oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Israel reportedly attacked suspected shipments of advanced Iranian weaponry — the Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missile — in Syria with back-to-back airstrikes this month. Israeli officials signaled there would be more attacks unless Syria refrains from trying to deliver such “game-changing” missiles to Hezbollah, an anti-Israel militia in Lebanon and key Syrian ally. Hezbollah said weapons shipments won’t cease.
On Monday, Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau accused Russia of destabilizing the Middle East by selling weapons to Assad’s regime. “Anyone who provides weaponry to terror organizations is siding with terror,” Landau said.