TEL AVIV — In an attempt to assuage Israeli concerns about Moscow's military buildup in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Syrian Army is in no position to threaten the Jewish state.
"We know that the Syrian Army is in a situation where it is unable to open a new front. Our main purpose is to defend the Syrian state," Putin told Netanyahu prior to heading into extensive talks on implications of the Russian buildup at Israel's north.
According to a transcript released by Netanyahu's office, Putin said he understood the Israeli leader's concerns and was "very happy you came to discuss every issue in detail."
In his opening remarks, Netanyahu — accompanied by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff and head of Israeli military intelligence — expressed concern that Iran and Syria are arming Lebanese-based Hezbollah with the purpose of opening a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
He reiterated Israel's policy of responding to attacks emanating from Syrian soil and preventing transfers of advanced weapons from reaching the hands of Lebanese Shiite forces fighting alongside Iran in support of the Moscow-backed Assad regime.
"As you know, in recent years, and especially in the past months, Iran and Syria are arming an extreme Islamic terror organization, Hezbollah, with advanced weaponry," Netanyahu said.
Hezbollah, Netanyahu noted, "has already fired upon us over the years thousands of missiles and rockets against our cities."
As for Iran, an increasingly close ally of Moscow that trains, funds and equips Hezbollah as a forward front against Israel, Netanyahu said the Islamic Republic, "under the protection of the Syrian Army, is trying to build a second terror front against us in the Golan."
"Our policy is to thwart transfers of these weapons and to prevent creation of a terror front against us from the Golan territory," he said.
Putin, according to the Israeli readout of opening remarks, condemned shelling and mortar attacks on Israel from Syrian soil, which he said were carried out by "home networks." That term, when translated from Russia, distinguishes homemade weaponry from industrial grade weaponry.
The Russian leader told his guest, "Every action of Russia in the region has always been very responsible."
He highlighted the many emigrants from the former Soviet Union now living in Israel as having "special significance" on the bilateral relationship.