TEL AVIV – In a rare move, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will visit Israel in October and meet with his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman to discuss the Jewish state’s security concerns in Syria.
The two are expected to “discuss the continuing coordination of the two militaries, the cooperation between the two countries and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, in which the Iranians are transferring advanced weapons to Hezbollah through Damascus,” Lieberman’s office said.
This will be Shoigu’s first trip to Israel since becoming defense minister in 2012 and the first visit by a Russian defense minister in many years.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Netanyahu said at the meeting, “Iran is increasing its efforts to establish its military foothold in Syria. That is dangerous for Israel, the Middle East and, I believe, the whole world. Iran is already in advanced stages of taking over Iraq and Yemen, and in effect it also controls Lebanon.”
“We are all defeating ISIS in a concerted international effort, and that is welcome,” Netanyahu continued. “What is not welcome is Iran moving in everywhere ISIS moves out. We do not forget for one minute that Iran continues to threaten Israel’s destruction every day; it is arming terrorist organizations and is itself instigating terrorism; and it is developing intercontinental missiles with the goal of arming them with nuclear warheads.”
“For all these reasons, Israel continues to oppose Iran’s entrenchment in Syria,” he concluded. “We will defend ourselves in any way against this threat and any threat.”
Israel has reportedly issued requests to Russia and the United States to include a clause in any ceasefire agreements that forbids Iran-backed Shiite militias – including Hezbollah – from coming within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of the border. Russia is said to have only agreed to a 5-kilometer buffer zone.
Lieberman visited Moscow in April and met with top Russian officials, including Shoigu.