Netanyahu and Putin Agree to Meet for First Time Since Downing of Russian Plane Over Syria

The leaders agree to meet after a month of tense relations between Moscow and Jerusalem over the spyplane incident and Russia's decision to send S-300 missile systems to Syria thereafter

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin, July 11, 2018.
Yuri Kadobnov,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to meet for the first time since a Russian spyplane was downed over Syria by Syrian forces as they fired on attacking Israeli jets last month.

The premier announced that he and the Russian leader agreed to meet while speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, where he also extended his condolences to the families of the slain Israelis who were killed earlier on Sunday in a West Bank shooting attack

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Diplomatic tensions that ensued between Jerusalem and Moscow after the latter accused Israel of the downed plane incident reportedly thawed somewhat on Saturday

Russia has reportedly been trying to open communication channels between Israel and Iran "in order to reduce tensions and prevent friction" in Syria after the delivery of the S-300 missile systems, London-based Arabic language newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported Saturday.

According to the Saudi-owned paper, a "knowledgeable" Russian source gave this information, and did not rule out Moscow playing the "role of mediator."

>> Israel faces a much bigger challenge in Syria than S-300 missiles

Damascus and its big-power backer describe the advanced addition to Syria's arsenal as a major deterrent. Israel and Washington have both voiced misgivings about the S-300 handover.

The S-300 system, and the more advanced S-400, have been deployed in Syria since 2016. So far, the Russian army has used them to protect its aircraft and Russian assets in Syria. But now, Russia’s decision to supply the system means it will be handed over to the Assad regime.

Israel says its air raids on Syria are needed to foil deployments and arms transfers by Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, allies of Damascus.

Israel said on September 4 it had carried out more than 200 air strikes in Syria in the previous two years - an average rate of twice a week - with Russia largely turning a blind eye. There have been no reports of such missions since the Russian plane's downing on September 17, however.