Iranian Encroachment in Syria Tops Meeting Agenda Between Netanyahu and Putin
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JERUSALEM, Israel – Iran's growing threat in Syria topped the agenda in Wednesday's meeting in the Black Sea city of Sochi between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and recently appointed National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat accompanied Netanyahu.
Following the three-hour meeting, Netanyahu released a short statement to the press.
"I spoke to President Putin very clearly about our positions on this matter and the fact that this is unacceptable to us. I can say about previous meetings with President Putin that any such conversation served the security of Israel and Israeli interests and I believe Russia's interests as well. Based on today's conversation today, I think I can say the same things vis-à-vis Russia," he said.
A little more than a week ago, Cohen and several senior Israeli officials met with U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and others in Washington.
According to media reports in Israel and abroad, the Israeli delegation was disappointed with U.S. reticence to pressure Iran into withdrawing its troops from Syria rather than expanding its military footprint there.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's former national security advisor Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror told Israeli journalists via teleconference that Israel must focus on its security concerns vis-à-vis Iran's creeping encroachment in Syria and Lebanon.
"I think that the main goal should be better understanding of the Russian leadership [of] what are the interests of Israel in Syria, what are the concerns of Israel in Syria, [and] what are the red lines," Amidror said.
It's important, he said, that future Israeli actions, whatever they may be, do not catch the Russians by surprise: "They will understand what motivated Israel and why Israel is acting as it will."
On Tuesday, Netanyahu called Iran's growing influence in Syria "further proof that Iranian aggression has not subsided in the least following the (U.S.-led) nuclear agreement, something which poses a problem not just for Israel but for every country in the Middle East and the entire world."
While Amidror admitted that providing Putin with Israel's perspective may not bring agreement between the two leaders, it's still important to do so.
"It should be well understood all over, mainly in Moscow, that Israel will do whatever is needed not to let the Iranians to build these bases and not to let Hezbollah to get these weapons systems," he explained.
"Israel cannot trust the Russians and Israel does not ask the Russians to take care of the Iranians," he added.
What Israel must do is prepare itself for future actions and operations it may need to take.
For about two years, Netanyahu and Putin have been meeting in person every couple of months and staying in touch by phone in between those visits. Wednesday's meeting is their ninth visit, five of which have been in Russia.
In 2016, Middle East expert Jonathan Spyer told CBN News the Russians were taking advantage of the "vacuum" created by the Obama administration.
"The Russians have noticed there was a vacuum in the Middle East and they're doing their level best to themselves fill that vacuum and by so doing advance Russia's strategic interests," Spyer said.
When Russia publicized its decision to deploy troops on the ground to Syria in the fall of 2015, Netanyahu met with Putin on the outskirts of Moscow to discuss coordinating their individual military actions to prevent "misunderstandings."
At the time, Netanyahu said it was important for everyone, including Russia, to understand how Israel is taking action, a strategy that has increased rather than diminished in importance.
"It is no less important in order to prevent misunderstandings and it is worthwhile to do so before they occur and not afterward," Netanyahu said at the time.
Two years later, Iran has multiplied its troops on Syrian soil, continued supplying Hezbollah with all kinds of military arms.
"It's basically a bottomless well of personnel that Iran can bring over as cannon fodder for its hegemonic aims in the Middle East," Israeli author and analyst Caroline Glick told CBN News earlier this month.
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