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Israeli Leader To Raise Concern About Iran's Military In Syria With Putin


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

By RFE/RL

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 23 his concerns about Iran's military presence in Syria.

Netanyahu will meet Putin at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. Both Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his six-year civil war against armed Syrian rebels.

"I will raise the problem of Iran trying to establish a military presence in Syria," Netanyahu said on August 22.

"This proves that Iran's aggression has not diminished since the nuclear agreement, which has become a problem not only for Israel, but for all the countries of the Middle East and the entire world."

Iran, an avowed enemy of Israel, has not responded to Netanyahu's repeated allegations that it seeks to bolster its military presence on the Jewish state's borders.

Recent Israeli media reports have featured satellite photos purportedly showing weapons factories that Iran is helping to build in both Syria and Lebanon.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu will tell Putin that despite tensions between Moscow and Washington, Russia and the United States need to cooperate to reach an arrangement in Syria that will ensure Tehran does not strengthen its presence there.

The Sochi meeting will be the sixth between the two leaders since September 2015. The head of Israeli spy agency Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and Netanyahu's new national security chief, Meir Ben-Shabbat, will join Netanyahu and Putin in Sochi.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu opposes a southwest Syria cease-fire recently announced by Russia and the United States, saying he believes it will enable Iran and its ally, the Lebanese Hizballah militia, to solidify their presence in the country.

Russia and the United States maintain that they protected Israel's interests in establishing the cease-fire.

Israel’s main concern is that with both Moscow and Washington distracted by other matters, the Russians and the Americans will make do with such piecemeal cease-fire agreements and will not try to reach broader arrangements that determine how Syria will look after the civil war is over, Israeli officials said.

With no broad agreement in place, it would easier for Iran, Hizballah, and the Shi’ite militias brought to Syria by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to augment their presence in the country, the officials said.

Israel believes that after the civil war is over, Russia and the United States must ensure that anyone who is not Syrian leaves the country, the officials said.

As in previous meetings between Netanyahu and Putin, Netanyahu is expected to express Israel’s concern that weapons supplied by Russia to Iran and Syria are being given to Hizballah.

Over the years Israel has raised similar allegations, but Russia has repeatedly denied them.

Beyond concerns about Iran, Netanyahu's talks with Putin are also likely to involve coordinating their military actions in Syria.

Russia and Israel have established a "hotline" to avoid accidental clashes in the country.

Israel has sought to avoid being dragged into Syrian conflict, but has acknowledged carrying out strikes to stop advanced weapons deliveries to Hizballah.

With reporting by AFP and Haaretz.com

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