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Putin, Netanyahu discuss military cooperation, Lebanese border

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 7, 2016
MAXIM SHIPENKOV / POOL / AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, stressing both the the importance of preserving stability on Israel's northern border with Lebanon as well as the need for increased military cooperation between their nations.

"I told President Putin that we are continuing our policy: We will not allow Iran to establish military bases in Syria, we will continue to act against precision weapons in Lebanon, and we will eliminate the tunnel threat," Netanyahu's office said in a statement detailing his call with Putin.

“The Russian side stressed the need to ensure stability along the line separating #Israel and #Lebanon in strict compliance with 1701 #UNSC resolution,” read a tweet from the Russian embassy in Israel posted Saturday afternoon.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was adopted to end the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, calling for both sides to maintain calm along the Blue Line and respect United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the demilitarized zone originally established by the UN in 1978 to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanese territory.

The UNIFIL peacekeeping force was tasked with ensuring “the immediate cessation” of attacks by Hezbollah and the cessation of all military operations on the border.

The call from the Russian president comes around the same time that Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) reported that Israeli soldiers fired shots in the air after being deployed near the Blue Line in the area of Kroom Al-Sharaki, east of Mays al-Jabal.

The agency reported that the Israeli soldiers fired because of "heavy fog in the area and the surprise of the Israeli enemy of a Lebanese army patrol in the Lebanese territory."

Several hours later, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made a statement describing the incident on the border in which "three suspects, apparently Hezbollah activists" tried to approach the "area of technological and engineering works in the enclave under cover of the weather conditions."

"IDF troops fired towards the suspects in accordance with the standard operating procedures. The three fled. The work in the area continues as usual," the statement concluded.

Ali DIA (AFP)

On Tuesday, the IDF announced that it launched an operation, dubbed "Operation Northern Shield", to prevent and destroy underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory.

The IDF said that Israel has seen over the years a concerted effort by Iran-backed Hezbollah to dig such tunnels, though emphasized that none were yet operational nor posed an imminent threat to Israeli civilians.

During the conversation that the Russian embassy said was initiated by the Israeli side, Putin also “emphasized the necessity to improve the Russian-Israeli interaction in the military sphere," read another Russian embassy tweet posted at the same time Saturday.

Although the two leaders have often expressed their commitment to continue coordination in the war-torn country of Syria, relations between Russia and Israel soured since Syrian air defenses accidentally shot down a Russian military aircraft in response to Israel airstrikes, killing 15 Russian servicemen.

The two leaders were due to meet last month but seemed to defer a formal session for a brief phone conversation that both professed as “important” without elaborating.

Netanyahu reportedly told his cabinet last month, according to Israel’s Hadashot television news, that the “the crisis with Putin is far worse than we thought.”

“Putin sees the downing of the plane as a personal affront to his prestige and this is an important component in his perception of power. Therefore, this is a strategic blow that made the crisis worse,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

The Russian leader also affirmed the phone conversation, explaining that they of course "talked about the tragedy that occurred," in reference to the downing of the Russian plane in Syria.

"The position of Israel is clear, well known, they believe that they are not involved in this tragedy," Putin asserted.

Answering a question during the 13th East Asia Summit in Singapore last month, Putin said that there was no plan for him to meet with Netanyahu in the near future.

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