Netanyahu, Putin in first Syria call since US pullout announced
JERUSALEM, Jan 4, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the shock US military withdrawal from Syria was announced, the premier’s office said.
During the phone call the two “discussed the situation in Syria and recent developments and agreed on continued coordination between the (Israeli and Russian) militaries”, according to a statement.
Netanyahu said Israel was “determined to continue its efforts to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria”, it added.
US President Donald Trump last month announced Washington would pull out all its troops from Syria, though the exact timeframe remains unclear.
Russia has been directly engaged in the Syrian war since 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is also supported by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — two longtime enemies of Israel.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, and the Jewish state and Russia have set up a “deconfliction” hotline aimed at avoiding accidental clashes.
The coordination was stretched when a Russian military aircraft was mistakenly shot down by Syrian air defences after an Israeli raid in September.
Fifteen Russian soldiers were killed and the Russian army accused Israeli pilots of using Moscow’s plane as cover to escape Syrian gunfire.
Israel said its forces were far from the incident at the time of the shooting, accusing the Syrians of reckless fire.
Russia has since announced new security measures to protect its interests in Syria, including strengthening the regime’s anti-aircraft defence mechanisms.
The measures and Trump’s announcement of the US troop pullout sparked concerns in Israel that it would have to limit its raids in Syria, amid fears of Iranian entrenchment in the country.
Israel says its raids in Syria target Iranian military sites or weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah.
On Thursday, Netanyahu praised the coordination with Trump against Iran, despite the planned troop withdrawal.
“President Trump is acting against Iran economically and in Israel we are acting against Iran militarily,” Netanyahu said.