Israel to continue Syria strikes despite S-300 delivery, Netanyahu says
Israel will continue to hit targets in Syria despite Russia's decision to equip the Assad regime with advanced air defence missiles, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.
Netanyahu said at a press conference that he told Russia's vice premier in Maxim Akimov in talks in Jerusalem that Israel would continue to fight what it says are Iranian attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and channel advanced weaponry to its Lebanese ally, Hizballah.
Despite the delivery of the S-300 air defence systems to the Syrian military, Israel was committed as a matter of self-defence to continue its "legitimate activity in Syria against Iran and its proxies, which state their intention to destroy us", Netanyahu said.
It was his first publicised meeting with a senior Russian official since the accidental Syrian downing of a Russian plane during an Israeli airstrike in Syria, an incident that raised tensions between Israel and Russia.
Fifteen Russians were killed in the 17 September incident that Moscow blamed on Israel, accusing its pilots of using the larger Russian plane as cover.
Israel disputes the Russian findings and says its jets were back in Israeli airspace when the plane was downed.
In response, Moscow announced new measures to protect its military in Syria, including equipping Damascus with S-300 air defence systems.
Russia and Israel set up a hotline in 2015 to avoid accidental clashes in Syria, but the new measures have led to concern among Israelis that their strikes will now be limited there.
Netanyahu, who met Akimov on the sidelines of meetings of a bilateral economics committee, said he believed that the current dispute with Moscow would be resolved.
"I think that with common sense and goodwill we can come to a solution that will allow the continuation of the good coordination between the Russian and Israeli militaries," he said.
At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon to discuss coordination.
The leaders have spoken at least three times by phone since the September incident.
Both Iran and Hizballah - enemies of Israel - are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in his country's civil war alongside Russia.
Israeli planes have carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hizballah targets.
Russia launched its campaign in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad in 2015 and though the involvement turned the tide of war in favour of Syrian regime forces. Moscow has since played a careful balancing act, maintaining good ties both with Iran and Israel.
Russia's stepped-up role in Syria enabled Assad's forces, which had been losing ground to the armed opposition, to gain the upper hand in the war and reclaim wide swathes of territory held by the rebels.
More than 360,000 people have died and millions displaced from their homes since the regime responded to anti-Assad protests in 2011 with brutal repression.