Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday to discuss ways of avoiding any unintended clashes in Syria between Israel and Russian forces supporting President Bashar al-Assad.
Emphasizing the importance of the visit, Netanyahu took along with him the chief of Israel’s armed forces and the general in charge of Israeli military intelligence.
A rapid Russian build-up in Syria, which regional sources have said includes warplanes and anti-aircraft systems, worries Israel, whose jets have on occasion bombed the neighboring Arab country to foil suspected handovers of advanced arms to Assad’s Lebanese guerrilla allies Hezbollah.
Ahead of Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin, a former adviser to the Israeli leader said he would try to work out “ground rules” for keeping the countries’ forces from accidentally trading fire.
“I’m here because of the difficult security situation, which is becoming increasingly complex on our northern border,” Netanyahu told Putin in the Russian president’s residence of Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow.
He told Putin he was in Russia to prevent “confusion between your forces and our forces in the region”.
A U.S. official told Reuters that U.S.-Israeli coordination allowed the allies to share classified technologies for identifying Russian aircraft over Syria: “We know how to spot them clearly and quickly,” the official said.
The United States, which along with its allies has been flying missions against Islamic State insurgents in Syria, has also been holding so-called “deconfliction” talks with Russia.
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Netanyahu said on his Facebook page he had told Putin about Israel’s policy of striking at suspected threats from the Syrian Golan. “Given these circumstances, I came to Russia, to make clear our policy and also to enable that there be no misunderstanding between our forces.”
Putin said Russia’s actions in the Middle East would always be “responsible”.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters Russia had started flying surveillance missions with drone aircraft in Syria in what appeared to be Moscow’s first air operations in Syria since beginning its build up. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, could not say how many aircraft were involved.
The Netanyahu ex-adviser said Israel worried that Russia’s reinforcement of Assad in the conflict, now in its fifth year, could effectively create an axis between its long-standing enemies, Hezbollah and Iran, and Moscow.
Israel is also concerned that top-of-the-line Russian military hardware now being deployed could benefit Hezbollah and one day be turned against the Jewish state.
“Our policy is to do everything to stop weapons from being sent to Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said.
Putin, who shares Western concern over the spread of Islamic State influence, has pledged to continue military support for Assad, assistance that Russia says is in line with international law. Russia has been focusing forces on Syria’s coast, where Moscow keeps a big Mediterranean naval base.
READ MORE: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/21/us-mideast-crisis-russia-israel-idUSKCN0RL10K20150921