Putin asks Netanyahu to avoid destabilizing steps in Syria
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Putin asks Netanyahu to avoid destabilizing steps in Syria

In phone call, Israeli PM vows to prevent 'Iranian military entrenchment' in war-torn country; Russian leader stresses 'importance of respecting' its sovereignty

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Amid escalating threats between Israel and Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid any steps that could increase instability in Syria.

Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel would continue to counter Iran’s efforts to build up its military presence in the war-torn country.

In a phone call with Netanyahu, “Putin stressed the fundamental importance of respecting the sovereignty of Syria, called for refraining from any actions that might further destabilize the situation in this country and pose a threat to its security,” the official Russian Sputnik news agency reported.

It said the call, which had been at the initiative of the Israeli prime minister, addressed “the Syrian issue… including in connection with the recent missile strikes on the T-4 airfield in Homs by the Israeli Air Force.”

The Prime Minister’s office said that Netanyahu “reiterated that Israel will not permit an Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.”

Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the Jewish state, appearing to indirectly refer to the predawn missile strike on the air base, which reportedly killed 14 people, including seven Iranians.

Photo released by Iranian media reportedly show the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage Monday. (Iranian media)

In line with its policy of ambiguity on attacks outside the country’s borders, Israel has refused to comment directly on the attack, despite being blamed by Russia and Syria.

NBC News also quoted two US officials as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.

On Tuesday, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened Israel. “The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Israeli officials did not appear to be taking the threat of a retaliatory attack lightly — either by Iran, or its proxy, the Hezbollah terrorist group, remaining on high alert in the north.

A Tuesday report from Israel’s Hadashot TV news, quoting what it said were numerous foreign reports, said that the target of the attack was not a missile shipment, but rather an “advanced system” that could have complicated or undermined Israeli air superiority in the skies of Lebanon and Syria.

Photo released by Iranian media reportedly show the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage Monday. (Iranian media)

Channel 10 news reported that the Iranian death toll of seven may not be final. It said Iran had lost “a significant asset” and perhaps “even an entire system” in the strike.

Israel has regularly expressed its concern about the Iranian presence in Syria, fearing the long-term establishment of hostile forces in the neighboring country.

The Israel Air Force conducted a previous airstrike against the T-4, also known as Tiyas, base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army.

That incursion sparked a series of aerial clashes that resulted in the Iranian aircraft being shot down, an Israeli F-16I getting hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire and crashing in a field, and a significant percentage of Syria’s air defenses being destroyed in retaliation.

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