JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon to discuss security coordination over Syria, amid friction with Moscow over Israel’s air operations.
Netanyahu made the announcement at a cabinet meeting, without citing a specific date for the talks with Putin.
Russia said on Tuesday it had upgraded Syria’s air defences with the S-300 missile system, after accusing Israel of indirect responsibility for the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian forces as they fired on attacking Israeli jets last month.
Israeli officials have said the new system could be defeated by Israel’s stealth fighters and possibly destroyed on the ground, and they have pledged to press on with efforts to prevent military entrenchment by arch-enemy Iran in Syria.
But since the Russian plane was shot down, there have been no reports of Israeli air strikes in Syria.
The apparent pause has raised speculation in the Israeli media that Israel was either holding back at Russia’s request or paused the attacks over concern they would fuel tensions with Moscow – the Damascus government’s main military backer.
Netanyahu said he had spoken by telephone with Putin “and we agreed to meet soon to continue the imporant security coordination between our armed forces”.
“Israel will constantly act to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and transferring deadly weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said, referring to the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Heavens)