Russia committed to Israel’s security, say Putin officials

Russia gives clear statement of support following meeting on Iran and Syria with Netanyahu.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Two senior Russian officials reassured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that Moscow has Israel’s back during a discussion focused on Iran and Syria.

President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, Alexander Lavrentiev, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin “reiterated Russia’s commitment to protecting Israel’s national security,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement following a Jerusalem meeting.

This follows hard on the heels of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov telling CNN in an interview on Friday that the “very strong security of the State of Israel…is one of the top priorities of Russia.”

The reassurance is particularly welcome in Jerusalem, considering that last Wednesday a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called Israel’s airstrike on Syria two days earlier “arbitrary.”

“We should never allow Syria, which has suffered years of armed conflict, to be turned into an arena where geopolitical scores are settled,” she stated.

Israel hit an Iranian intelligence site, munitions depots, training camp and warehouses in retaliation for Iranian forces launching a missile at the Jewish state from Syrian territory earlier in the week.

One of the main issues that Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and GOC Operations Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva discussed with their guests this week was the tightening of security coordination between the Israeli and Russian militaries.

There already is a working mechanism in place. Russian troops have been helping Syrian President Bashar Assad retake control of his country since 2015, and Israel has been bombing Iranian assets there to prevent the Islamic State from establishing a permanent military presence, which is a redline for Jerusalem.

Until last September, no Russians had been hurt from Israeli airstrikes, but that month 14 personnel were killed when a military aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire aimed at Israeli jets.  Putin blamed Israel, and relations between the two governments became noticeably frostier.

This week’s meeting marked the first time that a Russian diplomatic delegation has visited Jerusalem since that squabble, although Netanyahu spoke with Putin several times on the phone. The most recent conversation took place some three weeks ago to discuss possible consequences – such as increased Iranian aggression –from the American pullout from Syria, which President Trump announced in December.

Also last month, an IDF delegation went to Moscow for a quick meeting to update their counterparts on Operation Northern Shield, in which “understandings” were reached regarding Israeli military action in the northern arena.

Lavrentiev and Vershinin also met with officials in the Foreign Ministry during this trip. Director General Yuval Rotem expressed satisfaction with their Monday meeting on Twitter, calling it “productive” and a “meaningful and insightful discussion about a variety of regional issues.”