Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Moscow on Wednesday afternoon for a two-day visit, and will meet in the evening with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
This will be the third meeting between the two leaders in the last six months, and it will take place in the shadow of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s retaking control of southern Syria and the withdrawal of rebels from that area, as well as Israel’s efforts to keep the Iranians from gaining strength in Syria.
Also headed to a separate meeting with Putin is Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A short while before Netanyahu landed in Moscow, a reconnaissance drone flying in from Syria infiltrated Israeli territory and was intercepted by the Israel Defense Forces after spending 16 minutes in Israeli airspace.
It was intercepted over the Sea of Galilee, and the army said it was still investigating whether the drone was on a reconnaissance mission in Israel or simply veered off track.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Putin, Netanyahu met Tuesday with Putin’s special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu will make it clear that “Israel will not tolerate a military presence by Iran or its proxies anywhere in Syria and that Syria must strictly abide by the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement.”
This statement contradicts various leaks over the past two months that new arrangements had supposedly been made in southern Syria that would keep the Iranians away from Israel’s northern border.
Foreign diplomats informed of the details of discussions between Israel and Moscow say that Israel has agreed not to disrupt the Assad regime’s retaking of control on Israel’s northern border and not to assist the rebels except for humanitarian aid, in exchange for keeping Iranian troops and Shi’ite militias away from the border and maintaining room to maneuver against any increase in their strength in Syria.
Netanyahu told the cabinet at the weekly meeting on Sunday that in his meeting with Putin, he would “reiterate the two basic principles of Israel’s policy: First, we will not tolerate the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies anywhere in Syria — not close to the border and not far away from it. Second, we will demand that Syria, and the Syrian military, strictly uphold the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement.”
Netanyahu added: “It is self-evident that I am in regular contact with the American administration. These links with the two great powers are very important to the security of Israel at all times and especially at present.”
Another bombardment Sunday on an Iranian installation at the Syrian T4 air force base near Homs was attributed to Israel.