Israeli military officials are reportedly holding talks with Russian army officers to calm tensions after Moscow’s Defense Ministry said Monday that it held a joint jet patrol with Syria along the latter’s borders, including in the Golan Heights area.
According to the Ynet news site, Israeli officials are struggling to understand why Russia has apparently changed its policy toward Israel, after it announced such joint patrols are expected to be a regular occurrence moving forward.
The report claimed, without citing a source, that Israel may limit its air campaign in Syria as a result of Russia’s move, even after discussions end.
The joint patrol, reported Monday by the Interfax news agency, occurred on Saturday, Ynet said.
The news came amid tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border as Western powers scramble to counter an implied threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade the neighboring country.
Putin is considered one of few allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russia is seen as using its presence in the war-torn country to gain a foothold in the Middle East.
Israel’s close relations with Russia and Putin are often seen as linked to the two countries’ close military coordination in Syria, in particular when the IDF carries out purported strikes on sites within Syria.
Russia joined Syria’s civil war in September 2015, when the Syrian military appeared close to collapse, and has since helped in tipping the balance of power in favor of Assad, whose forces now control much of the country. Hundreds of Russian troops are deployed across Syria and they also have a military airbase along Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
Putin and Assad met in Moscow in September to discuss the cooperation between their military forces.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests and later turned into a civil war that has killed half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees outside the country.