Russian President Vladimir Putin told visiting President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday he had agreed to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon to discuss the security situation in the Middle East.
The two leaders met in Moscow and an Israeli official, who declined to be named, said Rivlin had “asked that Russia work to restore UNDOF as part of any long-term arrangement in Syria,” referring to a United Nations peacekeeping force.
Personnel from UNDOF, which monitors the Israeli-Syrian frontier on the Golan Heights, have come under fire and even been kidnapped by militants fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, prompting peacekeeping contingents from some participating nations to withdraw from the force.
The official said Rivlin had also reiterated Israel’s position that “it will not allow Iran or Hezbollah guerrillas to entrench on the Golan,” a veiled threat to take action in the Syrian interior to thwart such a scenario.
Rivlin’s remarks may have been aimed at playing on Russia’s concerns of ensuring that Syria maintains control over its territory.
Israel deems Assad ally Hezbollah its most potent enemy, and worries that the Iranian-backed guerrillas, who hold sway in southern Lebanon, are also becoming entrenched on its Syrian front and acquiring advanced weaponry from Damascus.
Though formally neutral on the civil war, Israel has carried out occasional air strikes in Syria to foil suspected Hezbollah arms transfers. An Iranian general and two senior Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syrian strikes attributed to Israel.
Israeli guns have also fired into Syria across the Golan Heights frontier zone in what they called responses to spillover shelling or deliberate attacks by Iranian-linked militias.
At the start of his meeting on Wednesday at the Kremlin with Rivlin, Putin stressed his country’s historic ties with Israel.
“Honored president, I welcome you with all my heart on your arrival to Russia. There are over 1.5 million people from the Former Soviet Union living in Israel, Russian speaking people who have both Russian culture and the Russian mentality,” Putin said.
The Russian president said that the Israelis from the FSU that live in Israel maintain ties to family and friends in their native lands, and that these ties give a “unique flavor to the relations” between Israel and those countries.
Officials from both countries said Tuesday that Israel was consulting with Moscow over its unexpected decision to return home the bulk of Russian troops in Syria, possibly complicating a mechanism to coordinate military action agreed upon by the two countries last fall.
“We have many topics to discuss in our meeting,” Putin said. The Russian president added that he had also spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the two set a time for further discussions.
Rivlin also stressed the quality of Israeli-Russian relations.
“The Russian-Israeli relationship has a long history. We cooperate in many different area and we both have experience in dealing with terror and fundamentalism,” Rivlin said.
“As a Jew, I want to say, we will never forget the Russian nation and the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis. Many Holocaust survivors in the world will never forget that the first soldier they meet at liberation was a Red Army Soldier,” Rivlin said.