Russia-Israel ‘hotline’ to prevent aerial clashes in Syria

Russia-Israel ‘hotline’ to prevent aerial clashes in Syria

Moscow says two armies are undergoing training to boost cooperation following Netanyahu-Putin meeting last month

Smoke billowing after reported Syrian regime bombings on rebel positions in Jobar, in eastern Damascus, on October 15, 2015. (AFP/Ammar Suleiman)
Smoke billowing after reported Syrian regime bombings on rebel positions in Jobar, in eastern Damascus, on October 15, 2015. (AFP/Ammar Suleiman)

The Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday that its forces in Syria had set up a “hotline” with the Israeli military to avoid clashes in the sky over the war-torn country.

“Mutual information-sharing on the actions of aircraft has been established through a hotline between the Russian aviation command center at the Hmeimim air base and a command post of the Israeli Air Force,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency, adding that the two sides were undergoing training on how to cooperate.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his army was going to increase its activity in the Syrian theater, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet with him. During the September 21 meeting, Netanyahu and Putin focused on coordinating Israeli and Russian operations in Syria’s airspace.

“It could come down to Israel and Russia agreeing to limit themselves to defined areas of operation in Syria, or even that they fly at daytime and we fly at night,” a former adviser to Netanyahu told Reuters at the time.

“What’s important is Putin’s commitment not to get mixed up in arming Hezbollah, which should help Israel, if it goes in there, to keep a safe distance from the Russians. It is pretty clear that Putin is not looking for a fight with Israel,” the former adviser was quoted as saying.

Several days after that meeting, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon referred to understandings reached in the meeting between Netanyahu and Putin, saying he did not expect the Russian campaign in Syria to interfere with Israel’s “freedom to act” in Syrian airspace.

The comment was a rare admission by an official as senior as Ya’alon that Israel conducts sorties in Syria, since the country routinely denies or avoids commenting on reports on its alleged airstrikes in Syrian territory.

Since the meeting, Israel on two occasions fired into Syrian territory after mortar shells launched in the Syrian civil war landed in the Golan Heights.

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