The Syrian army is aiding Iran and Hezbollah in building an anti-Israel terror network on the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, with the Kremlin strongman responding that Damascus has no time to worry about fighting Israel.
Netanyahu’s three-hour meeting with Putin during a lightning trip to the Kremlin came amid reports that Moscow is building up militarily in Syria, and Israeli concerns of a possible clash with Russian forces, which are bolstering embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Israel and Russia have a shared interest to ensure stability in the Middle East,” Netanyahu told Putin at the start of the meeting, according to an account from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. “And I am here because of the security situation, which is becoming more complex on our northern border. As you know, in recent years, and increasingly in recent months, Iran and Syria are arming the extremist Muslim terror group Hezbollah with advanced weaponry, which is pointed at us and has already been fired at us over the years — thousands of missiles and rockets on our cities.”
Syria’s military, Netanyahu added, was giving cover to Iranian efforts to open a new front against Israel.
The West has been concerned over Russia’s military buildup in Syria, which Moscow has said is aimed to help the Syrian government fight the Islamic State group. Russia, Syria’s long-standing ally, has denied that it helps Syria militarily to support the Assad regime.
Earlier this week, new satellite imagery showed the recent arrival of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military equipment at an air base in Syria’s coastal Latakia province, confirming reports by US, Israeli and other officials of a Russian military buildup.
Israel has long expressed concerns that Iranian and Hezbollah agents have used the fighting in Syria as cover to build up forces along the Golan heights to carry out attacks against Israel. A number of airstrikes over the last several years, reportedly targeting Iranian backed cells and weapons shipments, have been assigned to Israel.
“Iran, under the auspices of the Syrian army, is trying to build a second terror front against us from the Golan. Our policy is to prevent these weapons transfers, and to prevent the formation of a terror front and attacks against us from the territory of the Golan. In these circumstances, I thought it was very important that I come here, both to clarify our policy and to make sure there are no misunderstandings between our forces,” Netanyahu told Putin.
Putin welcomed Netanyahu’s visit, but expressed skepticism over the latter’s Syria warnings.
“All Russia’s actions in the region were always very responsible. We are aware of the issue of bombardments of Israel [with rockets] and reject all such bombardments. To my knowledge, these bombardments are carried out by homemade systems,” he said.
“As for Syria, We know that the Syrian army and Syria as a whole are in such a state that they have no time for a second front. They need to save their own state. Our main goal is to defend the Syrian state. With that, I understand your concern, and I’m very happy you came here so we could discuss all these issues in detail.”
The visit to Moscow comes a week before Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to the US to speak at the United Nations and meet with American officials, ahead of a White House visit in November.
Jerusalem has tried to maintain friendly ties with Russia, shying away from taking a position on fighting in Ukraine or other issues that the Kremlin and Washington have clashed over recently.
Putin also praised Israel, which is home to some million Russian-speakers.
“We never forget that a great many expats from the former Soviet Union live in the State of Israel, and that has a special impact on relations between the countries.”