Israel won’t allow Iran, Hezbollah on Syrian border, Rivlin tells Putin

Israeli president tells Russian counterpart enemies’ presence in Golan Heights is a red line, backs return of UN peacekeepers

President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on March 16, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on March 16, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Israel will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to establish a foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, President Reuven Rivlin told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Wednesday night at a meeting in Moscow.

According to Channel 2 news, the Israeli head of state conveyed the message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the presence of such Israeli enemies along the chaotic Syrian border was a red line for the Jewish state.

Rivlin also reportedly told Putin Israel was interested in United Nations peacekeepers resuming their mission along the border between the nations, which was largely abandoned as the Syrian civil war spiraled out of control.

The two also discussed Russia’s troop pullout from Syria and continued coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow regarding military activities along the Syrian front.

The meeting was described as a positive one.

“Russia’s interests in Syria are clear to us,” an unnamed top Israeli official told Haaretz. “President Putin spoke of his wishes and plans clearly and president Rivlin will pass them on to the prime minister.”

Channel 2 reported that Rivlin left the meeting encouraged. He then made phone calls to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Putin said Netanyahu would also visit soon for regional security and trade talks.

Putin said Russia and Israel “have a large number of questions to discuss linked with the development of bilateral trade and economic relations and questions of the region’s security,” according to Russian reports. “I hope that we’ll be able to discuss them in the short run with the Israeli prime minister with whom we have made arrangements for a meeting,” he added.

Regarding a future Putin-Netanyahu confab, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that “over the last few months we had regular contact with the Russians at the highest level, and that will continue.” The official assumed that there will be a meeting sometime soon.

Rivlin was the first foreign leader to meet with Putin since news of Russia’s surprise pullout from Syria, announced Monday.

The two leaders hailed ties between Russia and Israel in a joint press conference ahead of their meeting.

“The ties between our countries are based on friendship and mutual understanding,” Putin said. “We spoke on a variety of issues during our meeting, and we also spoke by phone with the prime minister and agreed to revisit these topics again.”

Putin noted Israel’s sizable Russian minority, and hailed the growing tourism between the two countries.

In his remarks, Rivlin told Putin the Jews would never forget how Russia saved them in World War II, adding that “many Holocaust survivors all over the world remember being liberated by the Red Army.”

“Today, we also both face terror and fundamentalism,” Rivlin said, and urged greater bilateral cooperation between the two countries in various areas.

On Tuesday, Rivlin said he intended to discuss the implications of Russia’s sudden military disengagement from the Syrian civil war.

“We want Iran and Hezbollah not to emerge strengthened from this entire process,” Rivlin told reporters during the flight to Russia on Tuesday. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger to the entire world, but Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.”

A senior Israeli official said on Tuesday that while Israel understands Russia’s interests in the region, it had yet to fully account for Putin’s surprise partial pullout from Syria.

Israel has also been anxiously watching reports that Moscow is about to deliver sophisticated S-300 missile defense batteries to Tehran.

During Rivlin’s two-day trip to Russia, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries, the president will also meet with the local Jewish community and visit Russian and Jewish cultural sites.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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