Israeli, Russian military chiefs to set up body coordinating activities in Syria
IDF spokesperson's unit
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday as part of an attempt to address Israel's concerns about confrontations that could possibly occur between Israeli troops and Russian forces active in Syria.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu said that an unprecedented and crucial mechanism had been established to prevent such misunderstandings.
Netanyahu was accompanied on the trip by Gadi Eisenkot, the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff, who met with his Russian counterpart Valery Grasimov, reportedly agreeing to form a joint committee to coordinate the two militaries' respectiv activities in the war-ravaged country, where Russia is supporting the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.
"It was very important to come here in order to clarify our position and to do everything to avoid any misunderstandings between our forces," Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.
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.
"I made it clear in no uncertain terms that we will not tolerate Iranian attempts to arm and organize activities against us on the Syrian border, and we will continue to take all steps against this threat to our security."
Putin for his part said Russia's actions in the Middle East "always were and will be very responsible" and downplayed the threat by Syrian forces to Israel.
"We know and understand that the Syrian army and Syria in general is in such a state that it isn't up to opening a second front -- it is trying to maintain its own statehood," he said in comments broadcast on Russian television.
Reports in Israeli press said that the aim of Netanyahu's Moscow visit was to avoid any possible clashes between Israeli and Russian jets that could operate over Syria.
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.
'Lack of faith' in US
Moscow has also been on a diplomatic push to get a US-led coalition of Western and regional powers fighting the Islamic State group to join forces with Assad against the jihadists.
Western diplomats suggest Putin -- who has been isolated by the West over the crisis in Ukraine -- is trying to switch focus to the Syria crisis ahead of a key address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 28.
Israel opposes 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.
Netanyahu is set to fly to the United States for talks with President Barack Obama in November in a bid to ease tensions over the Iran deal.
But Israeli left-leaning daily Haaretz said the visit to Moscow appeared to reflect Netanyahu's "lack of faith in the ability and willingness of the US to protect Israeli security interests."
Russia on Monday demanded "concrete action" after a shell landed in its embassy compound in Damascus.
Moscow said a mortar fell on the embassy compound in the Syrian capital on Sunday without causing damage and blamed forces battling Assad and their "outside sponsors" for the shelling.
"We await a clear standpoint on this terrorist act from all members of the international community, including regional actors," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
"What is needed is not just words but concrete action."
The Russian embassy in Damascus' Mazraa neighborhood had been hit by shells on prior occasions. In May, one person was killed by mortar rounds that landed nearby. Three were hurt when mortar rounds landed inside the compound in April.
The United States has said Russia recently sent troops, artillery and aircraft to Syria, sparking fears that Moscow could be preparing to fight alongside government forces.
Moscow argues that any such support falls in line with existing defense contracts, but Moscow and Washington on Friday launched military talks on the four-year-old conflict that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives.
Russia deploys 28 combat aircraft
US officials meanwhile said Russia has deployed 28 combat aircraft in Syria, confirming the latest move in Moscow's military build-up in the war-torn country.
"There are 28 fighter and bomber aircraft" at an airfield in the western Syrian province of Latakia, one of the officials said.
(staff with AFP)
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As usual, Obama and Kerry look like bumbling retards repeating a worn out cliche that Assad must go. That same refrain destroyed Libya and allowed chaos and religious Muslim groups to reign over most of that country. Now the U.S. wants chaos and Islam to reign over Syria instead of Assad? The overriding policy should be to do what is best for Israel and right now Assad is best for Israel. Putin is so much smarter than Obama, Valerie Jarrett and his feckless affirmative action selected cabinet and advisors.