Netanyahu to meet top Russian diplomats Tuesday, with Syria reportedly on agenda

Moscow’s deputy foreign minister and envoy on Syria hold ‘productive’ talks with Israeli Foreign Ministry chief

Russia's special presidential envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, right, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin, center, in Beirut, Lebanon, July 26, 2018 (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar/File)
Russia's special presidential envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, right, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin, center, in Beirut, Lebanon, July 26, 2018 (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Tuesday with visiting top Russian diplomats, his office said Monday.

According to the Ynet news site, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, will discuss the situation in Syria with the Israeli leader when the three convene.

The two Russia officials arrived in Israel on Monday and met with Foreign Ministry director general Yuval Rotem.

Rotem tweeted a picture of the meeting, saying it was “productive” and included “a meaningful and insightful discussion about a variety of regional issues,” though he did not elaborate.

Israel’s relations with Russia have seen some tensions recently, over Jerusalem’s ongoing campaign of airstrikes on Syria. In recent years, Israel has conducted hundreds of attacks in Syria against targets it says are linked to Iran, which, alongside its proxies and Russia, is fighting on behalf of the regime of President Bashar Assad. Israel has said Tehran is seeking to establish a permanent presence along its northern border, an effort it vows to thwart.

Following a flareup between Iran and Israel over Syria last week, Moscow’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Israel should stop its “arbitrary” strikes in Syrian territory, which she warned could “provoke a new round of chaos in the Middle East.”

However, several days later Sergei Ryabkov, another deputy foreign minister, said Moscow was not allied with Iran, and stressed that the Jewish state’s security was a “top priority” for Russia.

Israel’s airstrikes have routinely been coordinated with Russia. However, the number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses. That plane was downed during an Israeli attack on Latakia last September, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they prepare to deliver joint statements, after a meeting and a lunch in the Israeli leader’s Jerusalem residence, June 25, 2012. (AP/Jim Hollander, Pool/File)

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system in response to it. The systems were delivered to Syria late last year, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in post-war Syria. The IDF said this week that Iranian troops in Syria launched the missile at the Golan in a “premeditated” attack aimed at deterring Israel from conducting further airstrikes against Iranian military targets there.

On Sunday, Israel conducted a rare daylight missile attack on Iranian targets in Syria. In response, Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Hours later, in the predawn hours of Monday morning, the Israeli Air Force launched major retaliatory strikes on Iranian targets near Damascus and on the Syrian air defense batteries that fired upon the attacking Israeli fighter jets, the army said.

Twenty-one people were killed in the Israeli raids in Syria, 12 of them Iranian fighters, a Britain-based Syrian war monitor said.

A spokesman for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has denied reports that 12 guardsmen died, labeling them “lies,” Iranian reports said Monday.

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