Netanyahu and Putin to Hold Syria Talks, Amid Iranian Threat
JNS.org – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in the Russian resort city of Sochi to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
The issue of Iranian forces attempting to establish a permanent military presence in Syria — right on Israel’s northern border — is reportedly high on the agenda for the upcoming meeting.
Iran’s activity makes “an open channel of communication between Israel and Russia even more important than it was some years ago,” Professor Eyal Zisser, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told JNS.org.
Putin and Netanyahu have held five other bilateral meetings during the past two years to discuss regional issues — and to help maintain a protocol that prevents friction between the Israeli and Russian air forces when they operate over Syrian airspace.
Netanyahu last met with Putin in March, when he conveyed Israel’s strong opposition to the presence of Iranian forces and terror proxies — many equipped with Russian-made heavy artillery — operating inside Syria.
Israel and Jordan have also reportedly lobbied Putin and the Trump administration to establish a secure buffer zone between Israel, Jordan and Syria, as part of any future negotiated resolution to the six-year-long Syrian war.
During their March meeting, Netanyahu reaffirmed to Putin that Israel’s control over its northern Golan Heights region would not be discussed in any negotiations toward resolving the Syrian conflict.
Since becoming actively involved in the Syrian civil war, Russia has participated in mass atrocities, and has worked closely with Iran in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Israel, meanwhile, has reportedly conducted several missile strikes targeting Iranian-sponsored weapons convoys heading to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, as well as strikes responding to projectiles that have been fired into Israel.
In July, Netanyahu criticized a cease-fire agreement in southern Syria, brokered by the US and Russia at the G20 Summit in Germany, saying that it perpetuated the presence of Iranian forces near Israel. America and Russia responded to Netanyahu’s criticism by saying that Israel’s interests would be taken into account.
“Israel is not happy about the cease-fire agreement that was signed,” Zisser said. “This is why it’s important to have a dialogue .. and put pressure on the Russians to change this agreement, or improve and update it.”
Critics contend that Russia and Iran may be using the cease-fire to consolidate their gains and launch new offensives.
Indeed, in early August, Russian military forces were reported to have replaced the Syrian regime’s military presence in Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria, while constructing a base in the area, indicating that Russia intends to create a more permanent military presence near Israel’s northern border.
Citing a senior Israeli official, Haaretz reported in July that Israel was aware of Iranian plans to not only send military advisers to Syria, but also to build up Tehran’s forces there through the establishment of a permanent air and naval bases.
At the same time, it is unclear how long the current cease-fire will last. Previous cease-fires negotiated with Russia during the Obama administration’s tenure failed to halt the violence in Syria.