Netanyahu discusses Syria, Ukraine trip with Putin

PM’s office says they discussed tightening military coordination in Syria, where Israel has carried out strikes on Iranian-linked targets

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin following reports that Israel has expanded its airstrikes on Iran-lined targets in Syria to also include nearby Iraq.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu and Putin discussed regional issues and the situation in Syria, with the two stressing the need to tighten the military coordination system between Israel and Russia.

After Russia’s 2015 intervention in the Syrian civil war, it set up a deconfliction mechanism with Israel to prevent any accidental military engagement between them in Syria.

Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in recent years on targets in Syria tied to Iran, which like Russia is fighting on behalf on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel accuses Iran, whose leaders regularly call for the Jewish state’s destruction, of working to establish a presence in Syria in order to launch attacks against it.

In this photo from August 12, 2019, plumes of smoke rise after an explosion at a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

The phone call with Putin comes on the heels of a number strikes on Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq, which two senior US officials told The New York Times on Friday were carried out by Israel.

The officials said that Israel has carried out “several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official said that Israel was also responsible for the July 19 strike on a military base north of Baghdad being used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to transport weapons to Syria.

Netanyahu has recently hinted that Israel was responsible for the spate of attacks against Iran-backed militias in Iraq over the past month.

“I don’t grant Iran immunity anywhere,” he said to Channel 9, which caters to Israeli Russian speakers.

Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in neighboring Syria, but an expansion of the campaign to Iraq — where the Jewish state struck the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 — would risk damaging Washington’s relations with Baghdad.

Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state, but Israeli officials have so far neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for any strikes in the country.

During his phone call with Putin, Netanyahu also talked to the Russian leader about his trip earlier this week to Ukraine, his office said.

While in Kyiv, Netanyahu discussed a possible future role for Israel as mediator between Ukraine and Russia, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint press conference in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, on August 19, 2019. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Israel, which has good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, could serve as intermediary between the two warring countries at a future stage, the officials said. Currently, however, conditions are not ripe for concrete discussions about Israeli involvement as Russia and Ukraine are currently not engaged in serious peace talks, both officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a briefing to the traveling press, the prime minister refused to say whether Zelensky asked him to mediate between him and Putin.

Agencies and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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