Netanyahu, Putin talk Syria tensions as Iran threatens from Damascus

Liberman says Israel can deal with challenge of Iran in Syria; sirens on IDF bases in Golan set off by fighting across border

Illustrative photo of a UN observer at a lookout point as smoke rising at a Syrian village near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a UN observer at a lookout point as smoke rising at a Syrian village near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian conflict in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, two days after Israeli jets bombed an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus which had fired on an Israeli plane, the Kremlin said.

The two leaders also discussed the Iran nuclear deal and Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Moscow.

“There was a thorough discussion of ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and the results of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan,” a statement from the Kremlin read.

The report said the phone call was initiated by Israel. There was no immediate comment from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest backers and Jerusalem has butted heads with Moscow over fears that Iran will use chaos in Syria to gain a foothold on Israel’s doorstep.

On Wednesday afternoon rocket sirens rang out in IDF bases in the Golan Heights near Israel’s border with Syria. While the alarms were set off by internal fighting across the border, they underlined sky-high tensions in the area.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, left, Avigdor Liberman, center, and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot take part in an honor guard at the Israeli army’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 16, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Speaking shortly after the sirens, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel had “all the tools needed to deal” with the challenge of Iran in Syria.

“The Iranians are trying to take control of Syria to become the dominant power there,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Iran’s army chief threatened Israel while on a visit to Damascus, saying Tehran regards Israel’s violations of Syrian sovereignty as unacceptable.

Syrian Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij (R) meets with Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, Major General Mohammad Bagheri (L), at the ministry of defense in the capital Damascus on October 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

Liberman, who met this week with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Tel Aviv, said the threat underlined Israel’s oft-repeated warning that Iran was seeking to establish a permanent present there, and to target Israel, and said Israel would not allow this to happen.

Russia entered the Syrian civil war in 2015 in support of the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, carrying out bombing runs against rebel groups fighting against Damascus. Assad is also backed by Iran, which has provided the embattled Syrian leader with money, men and materiel.

On Monday, Israeli jets bombed a Russian-made anti-aircraft battery near Damascus after a plane flying a reconnaissance mission in Lebanon was shot at, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Russia was kept informed of the Israeli action in real time, the IDF said.

Also Wednesday, Iran’s military chief of staff warned that Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.

“It is not acceptable for the Zionist regime to violate Syria any time it wants,” General Mohammad Bagheri said during a rare visit to Damascus that began Tuesday evening.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of their meeting in Sochi on August 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)

In August Netanyahu held a three-hour meeting with the Russian leader in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, telling him that Israel was willing to act to prevent a continued Iranian military presence in Syria.

Following that meeting Netanyahu said “Most of the discussion dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish a foothold in Syria in the places where ISIS was defeated and is leaving.”

According to the PMO at that time, the prime minister speaks with Putin on a regular basis.

“It must be noted that in the last two years Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with President Putin every few months to discuss bilateral and regional issues with the intention of preventing any clashes between Israeli and Russian air forces in Syria, with success until now,” the statement said.

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