MOSCOW – Israel does not intervene in the Syrian civil war but will not allow attacks from the country to be launched at Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, a day after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria and other regional issues.
“You ask about the future of [Israel’s] relations with President [Bashar] Assad? I would ask what is the future of President Assad in general?” Netanyahu told Russian Jewish leaders. “We do not interfere in this issue. We’re making sure that Syria won’t become a launchpad for attacks against Israel.”
Israel would act against Syrian and Iranian forces, and against Hezbollah and other Islamist groups in the region, if it perceived any threat emanating from them, he said. “There are enough enemies. My policy is to take all necessary steps to prevent attacks, and we act from time to time when the need arises.”
It is unclear whether Syria can go back to being a single country, he added. Countries surrounding Israel are currently splintering, “and therefore a different arrangement is needed.” He didn’t elaborate, but said he and Putin had discussed the issue “at length” on Tuesday.
“What’s important is that whatever replaces [the disintegrating countries] will not lead to further tragedies and threaten our countries,” he said.
Putin, who, like Netanyahu, described Tuesday’s meeting as warm and constructive, is one of Assad’s last supporters within the international community. The two leaders discussed a range of bilateral issues, chief among them the so-called deconfliction mechanism set in place last year to ensure Israeli and Russian aircraft do not clash over Syria.
“We discussed the future of coordination between our militaries in the region, which has worked very well in preventing confrontations and in ensuring that we work against the same elements that endanger us all,” Netanyahu said at a press conference following the meeting.
A day later, addressing some 100 community leaders and businessmen, including Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt and Russian Jewish Federation chief Yuri Kanner, the prime minister hailed the Russian Jewish community for its role in improving the relations between the two countries.
Diplomatic ties between the Russian Federation and the State of Israel were renewed in 1991, some 24 years after the Soviet Union severed them in the wake of the Six Day War. The Russian Jewish community has greatly contributed to the ongoing warming of ties, Netanyahu said.
At the event, the prime minister also revealed that he handed Putin a copy of his father Benzion Netanyahu’s epic work on medieval Spanish Jewry, which was recently translated into Russian.