Russia-Israel team to eye foreign forces’ pullout from Syria
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Russia-Israel team to eye foreign forces’ pullout from Syria

Netanyahu tells cabinet that he and Putin have agreed to work together to oust troops that arrived in Damascus after outbreak of civil war

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 27, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 27, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel and Russia are to form a joint team to examine the withdrawal of foreign forces from Syria.

Israel is seeking the removal of Iranian forces and has vowed to keep its main enemy from entrenching itself militarily in the neighboring country.

Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Moscow to discuss Iran’s presence in Syria.

“I made it unequivocally clear that Israel will not allow the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria, and I also made it unequivocally clear that we would continue to take military action against it,” Netanyahu told his cabinet.

“President Putin and I also agreed on a common goal: the withdrawal of foreign forces that arrived in Syria after the outbreak of the civil war. We agreed to establish a joint team to advance this goal, together with other elements.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are targets linked to Iran and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and has established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes with Russia.

Iran, Russia and Tehran-backed Hezbollah support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war, which broke out in 2011.

Syrian army soldier stands guard as Russian military police vehicle passes by near the town of Alhureyeh, Syria, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Netanyhau has credited his close ties with Putin for the success of a system allowing Israel to carry out strikes in Syria without becoming entangled with Russia.

Wednesday’s talks were the first extended face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Putin since September, when Syria’s air-defense systems shot down a Russian plane by mistake during an Israeli strike, killing 15 Russian troops.

The incident, which Moscow blamed Israel for, threatened to hamper Israel’s air campaign against Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

After the spy plane incident, Russia dispatched advanced S-300 air defense batteries to Syria, raising concerns they could be used against Israeli planes. They have yet to be deployed, according to intelligence assessments.

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