Netanyahu, Putin agree plan to avoid Syria clashes
JERUSALEM / ISTANBUL
AFP photoIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed on a plan to avoid “misunderstandings” in Syria amid an apparent military build-up by Moscow to support President Bashar al-Assad.
The two leaders reached an agreement on Sept. 21 during talks in Russia, with Israeli media reporting that the discussions involved avoiding clashes between the two militaries’ jets over Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.
“The conversation revolved, first of all, on the issue that I raised regarding Syria, which is very important to the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said after the meeting, according to a statement from his office.
“The conversation was substantive. A joint mechanism for preventing misunderstandings between our forces was also agreed to.”
Israeli military officials reportedly fear that any Russian air presence could cut their room for maneuver after several purported strikes on Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah through Syria in recent months that were not officially acknowledged by Israeli authorities.
Israel opposes al-Assad’s regime but has sought to avoid being dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria.
It also fears that Iran could increase its support for Hezbollah and other militant groups as international sanctions are gradually lifted under a July nuclear deal that Moscow helped negotiate between Tehran and world powers.
Before his talks with Putin, Netanyahu said he was determined to stop arms deliveries to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement and accused Syria’s army and Iran of trying to create a “second front” against Israel.
Putin said Russia’s actions in the Middle East “always were and will be very responsible” and downplayed the threat by Syrian forces to Israel.
The United States says Russia - one of the few remaining allies of al-Assad - is deploying personnel and military hardware to Syria, sparking fears Moscow is preparing to fight alongside government forces.
Russia contends any such support falls in line with existing defense contracts.
A delegation of Arab-Israeli lawmakers, meanwhile, arrived in Istanbul Sept. 21 to brief President Recep Tayyip Erdoðan on tensions around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a presidential source said.
Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Change, and four other members of the Israeli Knesset met Erdoðan at the presidential complex in Tarabya. The president reiterated his condemnation of Israel’s “violation” and urged the international community to take action, the source. said.
The delegation flew to Turkey after meeting Jordanian King Abdullah II.