Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel from his visit to Moscow, saying that he stressed numerous issues that affected Israel during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I made it clear that regarding Syria, while Israel is not opposed that there should be an agreement there, we strongly oppose the possibility that Iran and its proxies will be left with a military presence in Syria under such an agreement. I think that this was made clear in the best way. From my experience with President Putin, these matters are important not only in preventing misunderstandings, but in the end they will also find expression on the ground.”
Iran’s chief proxy in Syria is Hezbollah, and Russian sources said that reports that Putin had given Israel permission to fight Hezbollah from within Syria were incorrect. A report on Al-Jazeera Thursday said that the two had discussed such a possibility, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied this, the TASS news agency reported. “I cannot comment on the information. This has nothing to do with reality.” The topic, he added, “was not discussed.”
In December, reports said that Israeli planes had struck at Hezbollah forces in Syria at least twice. In one attack, Israeli planes were said to have destroyed a convoy of trucks headed from Damascus to Beirut, and had bombed a Syrian army position in a Damascus suburb. The purpose of the attack, according to the media reports, was to strike and destroy weapons that were meant for Hezbollah. The reports said that Israel fired four missiles at the Syrian army position where weapons that were to be sent to Hezbollah were stored. Also hit were vehicles that were carrying part of the weapons shipment to Hezbollah forces, traveling along the main Damascus-to-Beirut highway. The IDF had no comment on either story.
Netanyahu added in his comments that he had discussed a number of economic issues with Putin, including an agreement under which Russia would provide pensions to veterans of the Red Army who emigrated to Israel and renounced their citizenship. Israel and Russia have been discussing the matter for years, and Israel has promised to help Russia in ensuring that the funds are available to pay the veterans.
Commenting on the talks, Putin was quoted by TASS as saying that Israel and Russia “have been maintaining a very close and trust-based dialogue. We hold regular meetings and maintain telephone contacts, our ministries have been closely cooperating. Besides, you often visit us ahead of holidays. I would like to offer you my best wishes for the upcoming Purim holiday.”