It was announced yesterday that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Moscow next week to discuss Russia’s increased engagement in Syria with President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this week, Putin confirmed Israeli and American assessments that Russia is increasing its military presence in Syria in support of the Assad regime. Putin told a conference, “We support the government of Syria in its effort to counter terrorist aggression … We provide and will continue to provide military assistance.”
Moscow has been a staunch supporter of President Assad since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. However, in recent weeks it is thought that Russia has sent a number of battle tanks to Syria and that Moscow is planning on establishing a base at Latakia, having already despatched military advisers and technicians in support of the Assad regime. There have been suggestions that Russian warplanes will soon arrive in Syria.
The increasing presence of advanced Russian military hardware in Syria has raised particular Israeli concerns that such weaponry could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which has previously used Russian-made Kornet and Yakhount missiles against Israel. A statement from Netanyahu’s office yesterday said that he “will present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war materiel to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organisations.”
According to Haaretz, Israel is also concerned that Russian jets and anti-aircraft systems will restrict Israeli air movement in Syria when necessary. It is thought that Israel has carried out a number of air raids over Syria since the civil war began, in order to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.
Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Monday for just a few hours. He will reportedly be accompanied by a handful of advisors and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin who grew up in Russia and has joined Netanyahu’s previous trips to Moscow.