Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heading to Moscow on Thursday to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin and voice his opposition to what he claims are Iran’s attempts to establish a permanent military foothold in Syria.
“In the framework of a (future peace agreement) or without one, Iran is attempting to base itself permanently in Syria—either through a military presence on the ground or a naval presence—and also through a gradual attempt to open a front against us on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in public remarks on Sunday.
“I will express to President Putin Israel’s vigorous opposition to this possibility,” he said.
Iran has been the strongest supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has provided militia fighters to help him.
Russia, another ally of Assad’s, is seen as holding the balance of power in achieving a deal on Syria’s future. The first UN-led Syria peace talks in a year ended in Geneva on FRiday with no positive breakthrough.
ISraeli leaders have pointed out that during the six-year ongoing Syrian conflict, Iran’s influence has been steadily rising, whether through its own Revolutionary Guard forces or Shi’ite Muslim proxies, especially Hezbollah.
Majority-Shi’ite Iran says its forces are in Syria to defend holy Shi’ite shrines. However, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces said in November the Islamic republic may seek to set up naval bases in Yemen or Syria in the future.
Last year, MK Avi Dichter, the chair of Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said that in the past Iran had tried several times to move forces into the Syrian Golan Heights, next to territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Dichter said those moves were repelled, but gave no details.
Netanyahu has said that Israel has has carried out dozens of strikes to prevent weapons smuggling to the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah via Syria. In order to coordinate military actions over Syria, Israel made an agreement with Russia two years ago in an effort to avoid accidentally trading fire.
“I hope that we’ll be able to reach certain understandings to lessen the possible friction between our forces and their forces, as we’ve successfully done so far,” he said at the cabinet meeting, referring to the Russian military.