Israel to Russia: Don’t Let Withdrawal from Syria Boost Iran, Hizbullah

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visits the Tomb of the Anonymous Soldier, at the Red Square, in Moscow, Russia, during his visit, on March 16, 2016. Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO *** Local Caption *** נשיא המדינה פתח הבוקר את ביקורו במוסקבה בביקור בקבר החייל האלמוני הממוקם במתחם הכיכר האדומה ובאוסף כתבי היד העבריים שבספרייה ע"ש לנין.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visits the Tomb of the Anonymous Soldier, at the Red Square, in Moscow, Russia, during his visit, on Wednesday. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin will ask Russia on Wednesday to ensure that its partial pullout from Syria does not embolden Iranian and Hizbullah forces there, an Israeli official said.

Rivlin is in Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose withdrawal announcement on Monday blindsided world powers. Israel believes the Russian intervention in Syria’s civil war served to restrain Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah terror group – anti-Israeli foes that are also fighting for Damascus.

In his afternoon talks with Putin, Rivlin will “seek assurances that Russia will not allow its Syria withdrawal to bolster Iran and Hizbullah,” an aide to the Israeli president told Reuters.

Rivlin, whose role is largely ceremonial, conferred with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before departing for Moscow, the aide added.

Israel deems Hizbullah its most potent enemy, and worries that the Iranian-backed terrorists, who hold sway in southern Lebanon, are also becoming entrenched on its Syrian front and acquiring advanced weaponry from Damascus.

Though formally neutral on the civil war, Israel has carried out occasional air strikes in Syria to foil suspected Hizbullah arms transfers.

Israel has also fired into Syria across the Golan Heights frontier zone in response to spillover shelling or deliberate attacks by Iranian-linked militias.

When Russia began its Syria intervention last year, Netanyahu was quick to set up an operational hotline with Putin to prevent Israel from accidentally coming to blows with Moscow.

On Tuesday, the Russian deputy ambassador to Israel said the countries would continue their military coordination on Syria.

“We will also do everything so that Israel’s national security interests are not harmed in the process,” the envoy, Alexey Drobinin, said.