National security adviser in Russia for talks on Iran troops in Syria — report

Meir Ben-Shabbat said to discuss with Russian counterpart plans for southern Syria, Israeli demand for withdrawal of Iran’s forces

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Israel’s national security adviser secretly traveled to Moscow on Monday, an Israeli TV report said, where he met with Russian officials regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria.

According to Channel 10, Meir Ben-Shabbat met with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev and other Russian officials. They discussed Russian efforts to formulate a plan for southern Syria and Israel’s demand for Iranian forces to leave the country, the report said.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the meeting but would not comment on its content.

Ben-Shabbat’s trip to Moscow came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Syria and the security coordination between the two countries there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Netanyahu said during Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting that he reiterated the importance of booting Iran from Syria during his talks with Putin and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend.

“I made clear to them our principles on this matter,” he said. “Iran must leave Syria and we will act and are already acting against Iran’s attempts to establish itself in that country.”

The Kremlin said Putin and Netanyahu talked about “joint efforts to provide security near the Syrian-Israeli border” during their phone call. They also “expressed readiness to boost the coordination of their actions with regard to Syria, including in countering international terrorism,” the Kremlin said.

Pompeo and Netanyahu met in Tel Aviv in April, when the two discussed concerns regarding Iranian troops and Iran-backed militia operating in Syria.

Netanyahu has spoken and met with Putin regularly in recent years regarding Syria, where Russia is fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The two most recently met in Moscow last month. Shortly after that meeting, an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel targeted an Iranian military base. Like Russia, Iran is a key backer of the Syrian regime.

This file photo provided on Friday October 20, 2017 by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows Iran’s army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, looking at a map with senior officers from the Iranian military as they visit a front line in the northern province of Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP, File)

Israel has repeatedly vowed it will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria and has carried out strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

Reports earlier this month said Israel and Russia reached an agreement for the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southern Syria. An Israeli official later told Channel 10 that no such deal had been reached, with Netanyahu stressing to Putin that Israel wants Iran out of all of Syria, not just the area near the Israeli-Syrian border.

While the official acknowledged that talks have progressed and that the Kremlin appears more understanding of the Israeli position, Netanyahu still made clear that his government will not shy away from using military force to keep Iran completely out of Syria.

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