Netanyahu Meets Top Russian Officials to Discuss Iran, Syria

Putin's special envoy for Syria and deputy foreign minister are in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli officials as tensions over U.S. pullout grows

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Russia's special representative for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin in Jerusalem, January 29, 2019.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Tuesday Iran and Syria with two senior Russian officials. 

According to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s bureau after the Jerusalem meeting, President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin reiterated Moscow’s commitment to Israel’s security.

The discussion included ways to improve security coordination between Russian and Israeli forces to prevent them from clashing in Syria’s airspace, after the downing of a Russian aircraft in September.

On the Israeli side, participants in the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office included National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and the head of the army’s operations directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva.

>> Syria pullout: Israel left with false Russian promises and a volatile U.S. president | Analysis 

The two Russian officials met Monday with senior officials at Israel's Foreign Ministry and were also slated to hold meetings with Defense Ministry officials on Wednesday. 

Their visit comes after weeks of tensions surrounding Syria, which Israel is afraid will pose a security threat now that U.S. troops are expected to leave the war-torn country.

Israeli officials have expressed their concerns in recent weeks that Jerusalem will be exposed to Iranian aggression following the American departure, but on Friday Russia's deputy foreign ministry assured that Moscow is committed to Israel's safety. 

In an interview with CNN, the deputy foreign minister stated that "We in no way underestimate the importance of measures that would ensure very strong security of the State of Israel. This is one of the top priorities." 

Earlier last week, Russia said that Israel should stop carrying out what it called arbitrary air strikes on Syria days after the Israeli air force targeted Iranian forces there. 

Israel, which regards Iran as its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon's Hezbollah. 

"The practice of arbitrary strikes on the territory of a sovereign state, in this case, we are talking about Syria, should be ruled out," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, in answer to a question from Russian news agency TASS about recent Israeli air strikes on Syria.