Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog left Sunday evening for a visit to Russia, in which he planned to address developments in Syria and how to counter Hezbollah’s military presence in the war-torn country.
Herzog is slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov and leaders of the Moscow Jewish community.
The visit comes just before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Moscow for talks Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin on security cooperation and Israeli concerns about Iran.
“Russia is a very influential nation in the world and in our region, and I intend in my meetings to aggressively seek to prevent weaponry given [by Russia] to Syria from reaching the hands of Hezbollah, and the expansion of Hezbollah’s influence to the Syrian Golan, which is a red line from Israel’s perspective,” Herzog said in a statement.
Herzog added that he would also discuss the moribund peace talks with the Palestinians, and social benefits for Russian immigrants in Israel.
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 both countries’ respective interests in Syria.
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.
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 would not let advanced missile systems or chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah’s hands.
Without commenting on reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria directly, Netanyahu said Sunday he hoped “we can also arrive at some specific understandings in order to decrease a possible confrontation between our forces and [Russia’s], as we have done successfully so far.”
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.
On January 18, 2015, a reported Israeli airstrike on the Syrian Golan targeting a Hezbollah cell there killed six Hezbollah fighters and an IRGC brigadier general, Mohammed Ali Allahdadi. Allahdadi was said to be involved in helping to build up the operational capabilities of Hezbollah’s burgeoning Golan presence.
Since then, the area has seen several exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah.