Russia raises concern over Israeli action in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives a letter of credence from Israeli ambassador to Russia Gary Koren during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 16.
Russian President Vladimir Putin receives a letter of credence from Israeli ambassador to Russia Gary Koren during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 16.

Russia has raised concern over Israeli action in Syria as the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to Moscow to protest an Israeli military strike near the Syrian city of Palmyra

Russia's foreign ministry said yesterday that it had summoned Israel's ambassador over airstrikes close to Moscow's forces near the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Interfax news agency that Ambassador Gary Koren was summoned on Friday and "asked about" the strikes. The ministry "expressed concern" about the action taking place near Russian military locations, Bogdanov said.

Israeli warplanes struck several targets on Friday, prompting retaliatory Syrian missile launches, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the war began six years ago.

On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes. "The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.

Israeli warplanes hit several targets in Syria on Friday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the strikes targeted weapons bound for Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.

Syria's military said it downed one of the Israeli planes and hit another as they were carrying out the pre-dawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra that was recaptured from Daesh this month.

The Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit. The Syrian government has made similar claims in the past. An Israeli army statement said "several anti-aircraft missiles" were fired following the raid but that none hit their targets. One missile was intercepted by Israel's Arrow air defense system, Israeli media reported.

Since the war broke out, Israel has supported Bashar Assad's removal and made warnings about the advancement of Iran and its proxies. It needs to be noted that while Russia and Israel share similar concerns in the region, Russia's close cooperation with Iran is likely disturbing Israel.

Israel wants Assad to leave the post and Iran to stop supporting Shiite militants. Iran has helped the Assad regime throughout the war, dispatching thousands of soldiers, mobilizing the Hezbollah group and delivering millions of dollars, despite its troubled economy due to international sanctions.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel opposes Assad but has sought to avoid being dragged into the Syria's civil war. However, it has carried out strikes to stop arms deliveries to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which fights alongside Assad's forces. Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006.

Israel and Russia have drawn closer in recent years. Putin and Netanyahu last met earlier this month. In June 2016, when Putin met Prime Minister Netanyahu he called Israel a "key country" for the Middle East. They agreed to set up a "hotline" to avoid accidental clashes between their forces, and the Israeli premier said further discussions would be held on the issue this week. During a visit to Jerusalem in November, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spoke of a "close friendship" between the two countries. However, Russian-Israel relations have been overshadowed by Moscow's alliances with Syria and Iran — both enemies of Israel.

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