Prime Minister Netanyahu met in Russia with President Putin to ensure Israel’s ability to fight terror emanating from Syria, despite Moscow’s military presence there. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in Russia, where they discussed Moscow’s military build-up in Syria and its possible hindrance of Israeli operations against terror organizations operating in the war-torn country.

Putin sought to assuage Jerusalem’s fear of a potential Iranian and Syrian aggression, while Netanyahu hoped to assure Israel’s freedom to operate in Syria against the terror elements, specifically Hezbollah, which utilize the Syrian civil war to build their arsenal and prepare for an eventual assault against Israel.

The West has been concerned about Russia’s military incursion into Syria, which Moscow claims is aimed at helping the Syrian government fight the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group. Russia, Syria’s long-standing ally, has denied that it helps militarily to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Earlier this week, new satellite imagery showed the recent arrival of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military equipment at an air base in Syria’s coastal Latakia province, confirming reports by US, Israeli and other officials of a Russian military build-up.

Russia in Syria

This September 2015 satellite image shows Russian transport aircraft, helicopters, tanks, trucks and armed personnel carriers at an air base in Latakia province, Syria. (GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus via AP)

Netanyahu, who was accompanied in a rare occurrence by IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, told Putin at the start of the meeting at his residence outside Moscow that Iran “is trying to set up a second terror front on the Golan Heights,” and Israel fears that a Russian military presence in Syria could hinder Israeli efforts to prevent Iran from arming the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon.

Putin told Netanyahu on Monday that his concerns regarding a Syrian and Iranian aggression in the area are unfounded.

“We know that the Syrian army and Syria as a whole are in such a state that they have no time for a second front. They need to save their own state,” Putin told Netanyahu in televised comments. The Russian leader also said that he understood Israel’s concerns, “and I am very pleased that you have come here to discuss all issues in detail.”

He attempted to reassure Netanyahu that “all of Russia’s actions in the region will always be very responsible.”

“I thought it was very important that I come here, also to clarify our policies and to make sure that there is no misunderstanding between our forces,” said Netanyahu.

He also stressed that “both from a personal standpoint and from a national one, in all of the relations between us, whether I agreed and also when we differed, our discourse has always been conducted with mutual respect and openness. I am certain that it will be this time as well.”

By: AP and Max Gelber, United with Israel