Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attend a joint press conference after their meeting at Putin's residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. (Photo: MAXIM SHIPENKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Netanyahu To Meet Putin Ahead Of Syria Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set off for Moscow on Monday to discuss, foremost, the crisis in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prior to his departure, the Israeli premier said his meeting would focus on “enhanced security coordination between the IDF and the Russian military forces…[amid Iran’s] unending efforts to military entrench itself in Syria.” Jerusalem and Moscow created a deconfliction mechanism in Syria after Russia’s 2015 intervention in the country in order to prevent any unwanted military encounters, especially in the skies. Israeli jets are active in Syrian airspace and on many occasions have conducted operations in order to uphold Israel’s so-called “red lines;” namely, to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to Iranian proxy Hizbullah and, increasingly, to thwart attempts by Tehran to establish a permanent presence in Syria. To this end, Netanyahu also has repeatedly pressed Putin to create a buffer zone of up to 30 miles along the Israeli border in which some 80,000 Iranian-controlled Shiite fighters would be barred from operating. The Israeli leader’s visit coincides, not coincidentally, with talks on Syria in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran. However, the negotiations are being boycotted by the main Syrian opposition, which has demanded as a precondition for its inclusion in any political process that President Bashar Assad step down; as well as by representatives of Syrian Kurdish groups, which Ankara views as a threat. In this respect, Turkey recently launched a major military campaign in Afrin targeting Kurdish YPG fighters allegedly tied to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Ankara and many Western states. The assault has strained Turkey’s relations with the U.S., which backed the Syrian Democratic Forces—an umbrella group for mainly Kurdish fighters, including YPG units—in the successful effort to uproot the Islamic State from its former “capital” Raqqa. Notably, Washington is not expected to send a delegation to the Sochi talks despite having recently confirmed that it will maintain American troops in Syria for the foreseeable future.

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