Netanyahu: Putin meeting to focus on averting Iranian entrenchment in Syria

Ahead of Moscow trip Thursday, PM warns of attempt to establish a Golan Heights front against Israel, lauds cooperation with Russia

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to address developments in Syria and how to combat Iran’s military presence in the war-torn country.

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Iran was seeking to exploit recent attempts to reach a political settlement in Syria in order to cement its military presence there.

“There is an attempt by Iran to entrench itself permanently in Syria, with a military ground and naval presence,” he said, adding that even without an agreement guaranteeing its long-term military presence in the country, Iran will seek to ensure it retains a foothold there.

Netanyahu also said: “There is also a gradual attempt to establish a front against us in the Golan Heights.” He would “express to President Putin Israel’s strong and resolute opposition to this possibility” when he goes to Moscow on Thursday, he said.

Since its intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, Russia has worked closely with Iran in order to help prop up the regime of President Bashar Assad and preserve the two countries’ respective interests in Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on June 7, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on June 7, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu has sought Russia’s help in seeking to thwart the attempts of Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel, telling Russian media outlets during a visit to Moscow last June that “Iran will not be allowed, using Hezbollah, to use Syrian territory to attack us and open up another terrorist front against us in the Golan.”

Last week, Chagai Tzuriel, the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry, told The Times of Israel that keeping Iran and Hezbollah from getting a foothold on the Golan was at the top of the agenda for Israel’s security apparatus.

Despite Russia’s alliance with Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, Israel has reportedly carried out a number of airstrikes against weapons convoys heading to Lebanon, vowing that it would not let advanced missile systems or chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah’s hands.

Without commenting on reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria directly, Netanyahu said Sunday he hoped “we can also arrive at some specific understandings in order to decrease a possible confrontation between our forces and [Russia’s], as we have done successfully so far.”

Israeli officials have long accused the Iranian revolutionary guards of trying to build an anti-Israel front on the Syrian Golan, alongside Hezbollah forces and local Druze opposed to Israel.

On January 18, 2015, a reported Israeli airstrike on the Syrian Golan targeting a Hezbollah cell there killed six Hezbollah fighters and an IRGC brigadier general, Mohammed Ali Allahdadi. Allahdadi was said to be involved in helping to build up the operational capabilities of Hezbollah’s burgeoning Golan presence.

Since then, the area has seen several exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

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