Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed that it is important for Russia to maintain close relations with Israel. Putin met with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday. The Israeli PM is in Moscow to discuss the co-ordination between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria as well as the efforts to sustain a truce in Syria.
This is the third time that the Israeli and Russian leaders have met in the past six months though military officials of both countries have repeatedly met to coordinate the two countries’ actions around Syria’s territory.
After the pullout of its military forces from Syria who were deployed there since September last year, Putin had extended the invitation to Netanyahu amid the visit by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Russia last month.
Putin said, “I think there are understandable reasons for these intensive contacts (with Israel), given the complicated situation in the region.”
The two leaders exchanged views on the main issues of bilateral cooperation, particularly in the field of security, as well as urgent regional and global issues including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the Syrian crisis. Netanyahu said that at talks with President Putin they had discussed ‘all regional issues – Iran, weapons and the Palestinian issue’.
The Israeli PM said ‘problems came up’ in his meeting in Moscow on Thursday with Russian President Putin over the issue of Israel’s freedom to operate militarily in Syria.
Netanyahu said he came to Russia “with one particular main purpose: to strengthen the coordination between us in the field of security, in order to prevent all sorts of mistakes and misunderstandings.” Israeli and Russian fighter jets had flown dangerously close over Syrian territory in an incident and in November, a Russian fighter jet had entered Israeli airspace due to a lack of coordination. Also Russian forces in Syria fired at least twice on Israeli military aircraft due to operational un-coordination.
Israel’s concern over Russia’s supplying advanced military systems, the S-300 surface to air missiles to Iran was also raised, an issue which Netanyahu said was discussed ‘in a serious and responsible manner. This also adds to our security in my opinion’.
The Israeli PM Netanyahu also expressed his fears to Putin, that sophisticated weapons from Syria and Iraq could end up in the hands of the Lebanese militant group Hizballah, and said his country was doing everything in its power to prevent it.
At the start of the meeting, Netanyahu said the Golan is a ‘red line’ and must remain a part of Israel. He reiterated that “the Golan Heights (territories in northern Israel the country occupied from Syria in the 1967 War) will remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel with or without an agreement.” Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in 1981.
Russia however maintained its position on the Golan Heights based on a UN Security resolution in 2008, according to an earlier briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, which was passed by 161 countries, with only Israel voting against – directing Israel to refrain from ‘changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and, in particular, to desist from the establishment of settlements (and) from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan and from its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan.”