by Shlomo Cesana and Israel Hayom Staff
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his meeting Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin will focus on Syria • I hope we will reach understandings to reduce possible friction between our forces and the Russian forces in Syria, he says.
At the start of the weekly Diplomatic-Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his meeting with Putin would focus on Syria.
"The effort to formulate an agreement there will be at the center of our conversation. In the context of this agreement, or without it, Iran is trying to establish itself permanently in Syria, with a military presence on the ground and at sea, and also a gradual attempt to open a front against us on the Golan Heights," Netanyahu said.
"I will express to President Putin Israel's sharp and vigorous opposition to this possibility. I hope we will be able to reach certain understandings in order to reduce possible friction between our forces and theirs, as we have successfully done up until now."
Last month, Netanyahu met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House and in a joint press conference touched on ties with Russia. Netanyahu said Israel's ties with Russia had undergone a change for the better, and while Russia was present in Syria, its goal was not to attack Israel. Netanyahu said that Israel was coordinating with Russia and conducting numerous conversations.
Netanyahu said that in phone conversations with the Russian leader, he had explained to Putin that Israel was not pleased with Russia's operations in Syria or with how the Russian involvement was firing up the Shiite militias and other groups.
The prime minister stressed that Israel and Russia enjoyed ties of friendship, but there were several conflicting interests.
Thursday's meeting will mark the first time Netanyahu and Putin have met this year. In 2016 they met twice. They also had two meetings toward the end of 2015, and have spoken several times by telephone.
Prior meetings have focused on preventing misunderstandings between the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian forces in Syria, on the peace talks for Syria, and on Russia's sales of advanced weapons systems to Iran, as well as preventing the shipment of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog flew to Russia on Sunday at the invitation of the Russian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. During his stay in Moscow, Herzog is slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, other government representatives, and representatives of the Russian Jewish community.
Before his departure, Herzog said, "In my meetings, I intend to take a strong stance against the weapons supplied to Syria being sent to Hezbollah and against Hezbollah's attempts to expand its sphere of influence to include the Syrian Golan Heights, which marks a red line for Israel."
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