Netanyahu heading to Moscow to warn of Iranian meddling
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Netanyahu heading to Moscow to warn of Iranian meddling

Ahead of Putin meeting, PM slams attempt to establish a Golan Heights front against Israel, lauds cooperation with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 7, 2016. (AFP Photo/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 7, 2016. (AFP Photo/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly to Moscow on Thursday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin where he will seek to further the “enduring relationship” between Israel and Russia, the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday.

In a statement released ahead of the one-day trip, the PMO said Netanyahu will address developments in Syria and how to combat Iran’s military presence in the war-torn country.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu will express Israel’s vehement opposition to allowing Iranian troops, or satellite groups, on our northern border… under any agreement,” the statement read.

Since its intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, Russia has worked closely with Iran in order to help prop up the regime of President Bashar Assad and preserve the two countries’ respective interests in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar Assad arrive for a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar Assad arrive for a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Netanyahu said Iran was seeking to exploit recent attempts to reach a political settlement in Syria in order to cement its military presence there.

“There is an attempt by Iran to entrench itself permanently in Syria, with a military ground and naval presence,” he said, adding that even without an agreement guaranteeing its long-term military presence in the country, Iran will seek to ensure it retains a foothold there.

“The prime minister intends to once again raise with Putin the fact that the Golan Heights will not be a part of any agreement,” Wednesday’s statement added.

Israeli officials have long accused the Iranian revolutionary guards of trying to build an anti-Israel front on the Syrian Golan, alongside Hezbollah forces and local Druze opposed to Israel.

Netanyahu has sought Russia’s help in seeking to thwart the attempts of Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel, telling Russian media outlets during a visit to Moscow last June that “Iran will not be allowed, using Hezbollah, to use Syrian territory to attack us and open up another terrorist front against us in the Golan.”

Last week, Chagai Tzuriel, the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry, told The Times of Israel that keeping Iran and Hezbollah from getting a foothold on the Golan was at the top of the agenda for Israel’s security apparatus.

A photo taken from the Golan Heights shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab. Israeli aircraft struck Syrian army positions after fire from its war-torn neighbor hit the Golan, September 10, 2016. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)
A photo taken from the Golan Heights shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab. Israeli aircraft struck Syrian army positions after fire from its war-torn neighbor hit the Golan, September 10, 2016. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

Despite Russia’s alliance with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, Israel has reportedly carried out a number of airstrikes against weapons convoys heading to Lebanon, vowing that it won’t let advanced missile systems or chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah’s hands.

“This is a very important meeting for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu was quoted in Wednesday’s statement as saying.

The prime minister will take off from Ben Gurion airport at 8.15 a.m Monday morning and return to Israel the same evening. He will be joined by Environmental Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin; acting national security adviser Jacob Nagel; the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Herzl Halevy; and Netanyahu’s military secretary, Eliezer Toledano.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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