Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow on Monday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the implications of Russia’s recent military deployment in Syria.
Putin has confirmed that Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Assad since the outbreak of the civil war, is increasing its military presence in Syria in support of the regime.
In recent weeks it is thought that Russia has sent a number of battle tanks to Syria and that Moscow is planning on establishing a base at Latakia, having already despatched military advisers and technicians in support of the Assad regime.
During his Moscow visit, Netanyahu will be accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevy, underscoring Israel’s concerns that advanced Russian military hardware in Syria could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which has previously used Russian-made Kornet and Yakhount missiles against Israel.
Netanyahu’s office said last week that he “will present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war material to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organisations.”
Top IDF generals very rarely accompany the prime minister on his trips abroad, with the premier’s military attaché generally the only uniformed officer who joins these overseas trips.
According to analysts, the seriousness with which Israel is taking the new developments in Syria, and Russia’s growing troop physical involvement there, is reflected in Netanyahu’s decision to bring both Eisenkot and Halevi on the trip.
It is expected that Eisenkot will discuss coordination with his military counterparts in Moscow to fend off any inadvertent engagement between Russian troops now present in the area of the port city of Latakia, and Israeli forces.
Israel has said on numerous occasions that it reserves the right of action to prevent state-of-the-art weaponry from being transferred either from Iran to Hezbollah via Syria, or to prevent the “leakage” of similar cutting edge weaponry from the Syrian army to Hezbollah. According to foreign reports, Israel has indeed taken action over the last few years to prevent such arms transfers.
“Over the years we have raised our concerns about the transfer of Russian military equipment to the region, where Russian equipment ends up in Hezbollah’s hands,” one government official said, adding that “unfortunately over the last two years we have seen an increase in the weapons reaching Hezbollah.”
Netanyahu is also expected to discuss with Putin Russia’s decision to supply Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.