Israel and Russia agreed on Monday to coordinate military actions over Syria in order to avoid accidentally trading fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Moscow.
Recent Russian reinforcements for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which sources say included warplanes and anti-aircraft systems, worry Israel, whose jets have targeted neighboring Lebanon to foil the suspected transfer of arms to Hezbollah, Assad’s guerrilla ally.
Briefing Israeli reporters before he met Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said he had come with the goal of averting possible “misunderstandings between our forces.”
“Over the last number of years, and even more so over the last few months, Iran and Syria are arming the radical Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah with advanced weaponry that is directed at us, and has already been fired at us,” Netanyahu said.
“For these reasons, I thought it was very important to come here, both in order to make clear our positions, and also to ensure that there will not be any misunderstandings between our forces,” he added.
Putin responded, “Our main goal is to defend Syria. With that being said, I understand your concerns and I’m very happy you’ve come to discuss these issues in detail.”
Netanyahu added after the meeting that he and Putin “agreed on a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings.” He did not elaborate.
Underlining the importance of Netanyahu’s one-day visit to Moscow, he took along his chief of armed forces and the general in charge of military intelligence.
Putin has pledged to continue military support for Assad that Russia says is in line with international law.
Russia has been focusing forces on Syria’s coast, where Moscow keeps a big Mediterranean naval base.
Netanyahu told reporters he had informed the Americans “on each and every detail” of his Moscow visit, adding, “Everyone has an interest in avoiding an unnecessary clash” over Syria.
A US official told Reuters that US-Israeli coordination allowed the allies to share classified technologies for identifying Russian aircraft over Syria.
“We know how to spot them clearly and quickly,” the official said.
Separately, US officials said Russia had started flying surveillance missions with drone aircraft in Syria in what appeared to be Moscow’s first air operations there since beginning its build-up.
A former Netanyahu adviser said Israel was concerned that Russia’s help for Assad in battling an insurgency now in its fifth year could create a de-facto axis among Moscow, Iran and Hezbollah.