Russia helping Syria fight Islamic State, Putin tells Netanyahu

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sought to assuage Israel’s fears of Iran and Syria.

The West has been concerned about Russia’s military buildup in Syria, suspecting that the intention is to support the government of President Bashar Assad. Russia has insisted that its aim is to help Syria – a longtime ally – fight the Islamic State.

Netanyahu told Putin at the start of the meeting at his residence outside Moscow that Iran and Syria had been supplying Hezbollah with advanced weapons, and were “trying to set up a second terrorist front on the Golan Heights,” which Israel captured from Syria and effectively annexed in 1981.

Putin responded by saying the fears of Syrian aggression against Israel were 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. “But still, I understand your concerns,” he added.

Netanyahu told Putin that Israel’s policy was to prevent these weapons transfers and thus he felt it was important to inform Russia of this, “to make sure that there was no misunderstanding between our forces”.

Monday’s meeting was the first between the two leaders since November 2013, although they have spoken by telephone three times this year, the Kremlin said.

The US has also warned that Russia’s movement of tactical aircraft and surface-to-air missiles to Syria could pose a threat to American and allied forces fighting the Islamic State.

Satellite imagery also has shown the recent arrival of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military equipment at an air base near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.

 

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