Netanyahu Agrees to a Deal With Putin to Avert Syria Clashes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Addresses AIPAC Policy Conference

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
  • Military `misunderstandings' will be avoided: Israeli PM
  • Netanyahu says Israel won't allow Iran to arm Hezbollah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he reached agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on ways to prevent clashes between their militaries in war-torn Syria.

Netanyahu said he told Putin that Israel was determined “to stop the smuggling of weapons from Syria to the Hezbollah” during talks in Moscow on Monday that “focused on the complicated security situation on our northern border.” Russia offered no opposition to that policy, he said.

His goal is to avoid “misunderstandings” between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Russian military in the region, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters after the meeting. “We set up a mechanism to prevent these misunderstandings,” he said.

The talks took place after Russia said on Friday that it’s willing to consider sending troops into combat in Syria’s four-year civil war if President Bashar al-Assad requests help. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter discussed Syria by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Friday in their first conversation since he entered the Pentagon in February. The U.S., which says Assad must go to help resolve the crisis, accuses Russia of increasing military aid to Syria in recent weeks by sending tanks, artillery and personnel to its ally, as well as setting up what the Pentagon says may be a forward airbase near the coastal city of Latakia.

‘Ensuring Stability’

Iran and Syria are arming Hezbollah with modern weapons, and trying to open a second “terrorist front” on the Golan Heights, Netanyahu told Putin at the start of their talks. Israel and Russia have a “common interest in ensuring stability” in the Middle East, he said.

Russia has always acted responsibly in the region, while Syria and its army are in no condition to open a second front and are “trying to preserve their statehood,” Putin replied. “Nevertheless, I fully understand your concerns.”

The Kremlin hasn’t yet confirmed the deal with Israel. Russia is weighing a possible military attack against militants in Syria as early as next week, either before or immediately after Putin is due to address the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported on Monday, citing unidentified sources in the Russian armed forces.

Syrian Airspace

Russia has begun flying surveillance drones over Syria and has sent two dozen more fighter jets to the country, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing U.S. defense officials. Russia deployed four fighter jets to the base in Latakia, Reuters reported on Sept. 18, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

The Israelis “are concerned that some of the systems the Russians are putting in place would interfere with their ability to operate over Syrian airspace,” Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C., said in a phone call with reporters before the talks.

Israel is suspected of carrying out several airstrikes in Syria over the past two years targeting arms convoys and weapons depots. While Israel has not taken responsibility for the attacks, Netanyahu and other officials have said they will not allow Syria to deliver advanced weapons to Hezbollah, or allow the Lebanese militia to operate on Syria’s Golan frontier.

‘War Material’

The Obama administration’s decision to renew top-level defense contacts with Moscow, which were cut off over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, reflects an effort to “get clarity on what Russia’s intentions are, what they intend to do” in Syria, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Friday.

Netanyahu’s visit sought to “present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war material to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organizations,” the Israeli government said in a statement last week. Israeli army chief General Gadi Eisenkot is accompanying Netanyahu to Moscow, an Israeli official said, reflecting the military dimension of the discussion.

The defeat of Islamic State should take precedence for the global community over changing the Assad regime, and a broad coalition is needed to combat the threat posed by the terrorist group, Putin said last week. Shoigu and Carter discussed “the need to coordinate bilateral and multilateral efforts to combat international terrorism,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Friday, according to the Interfax news service.

A mortar shell fired into the grounds of the Russian embassy in Damascus on Sunday came from a district in the Syrian capital in which anti-government militants who have “external sponsors” and are not linked with Islamic State operate, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement on its website on Monday. The international community should condemn the attack “not just with words, but also concrete actions,” it said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE