Netanyahu and Trump discuss Syria ahead of Putin summit
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Netanyahu and Trump discuss Syria ahead of Putin summit

US and Israel share concerns about Iran’s growing military presence in Syria; PM says US president remains committed to Israel’s security

US President Donald Trump (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
US President Donald Trump (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he spoke with US President Donald Trump on Saturday about security matters relating to Syria and Iran ahead of the latter’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also said that Trump remained committed to Israel’s security.

“Yesterday I spoke with US President Donald Trump,” he said. “We discussed security and diplomatic issues in light of developments in the region, with Syria and Iran first and foremost, of course.”

The prime minister added: “I thanked President Trump for his strong policy against Iran because since this policy has been taken, we have seen a great effect on – and inside – Iran. President Trump clearly reiterated his commitment to the security of Israel and his willingness to help the State of Israel in various fields.”

In their phone call on Saturday, the Israeli leader briefed Trump on his meeting in Moscow last Wednesday, where Netanyahu told Putin that Israel would not seek to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad but urged Moscow to work to remove Iranian troops from the country.

Both the United States and Israel are concerned about Iran’s growing military presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial aid to Assad’s forces. Russia, a key backer of Assad, has reportedly agreed to remove Iranian troops from the border region but allow them to remain in other parts of Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

“We won’t take action against the Assad regime, and you get the Iranians out,” the Reuters news agency quoted Netanyahu as telling Putin on Wednesday, citing an Israeli official.

A spokesman for the prime minister denied the account but Netanyahu the next day signaled Israel would not support efforts to topple Assad.

Media reports suggest that at their meeting in Helsinki on Monday, Putin and Trump could reach a deal that would envisage the deployment of Syrian government forces alongside the Israeli border and the withdrawal of Iranian forces and their proxy Hezbollah from the area.

According to a report last month, Israel’s willingness to leave Assad in power echoes the US position.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria.

IDF soldiers beside tanks near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Tensions have been brewing along the border in recent months, with Israel launching attacks on Iranian targets in Syria in response to Iranian rocket fire and drone incursions into Israel.

Russia has warned it was unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country, but there have been signs of an emerging compromise between Moscow and Jerusalem on the issue. Senior Israeli officials say Russia is working to prevent Iran from entrenching its military along Israel’s northern border with Syria, according to Hebrew media reports.

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