According to initial reports, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin talked mostly at cross-purposes when they met in the presidential residence outside Moscow Monday, Sept. 21.
According to debkafile’s sources, Netanyahu, who brought with him an impressive party of top Israeli generals, presented his host with intelligence evidence to demonstrate that Iran – under the cover of the Syrian army – is trying to “build a second terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights.”
He indicated that Israel would be forced to resort to military action to counter this front and asked to see Putin in order to avert collisions between Israeli and Russian forces on Syrian soil.
Putin greeted these words with slippery evasions. Syria is in no state to open up an additional front, he said, and Moscow's main goal in its involvement in Syria is to defend that country.
The point the Israeli prime minister tried to make was that Israel’s security was at stake here – not Syria’s. He stressed that Iran and Syria were arming the radical Islamic terrorist organization Hizballah with “advanced weaponry that is directed at us, and has already been fired at us.”
But Putin sidestepped this too, remarking that that he is aware that Israel has been fired upon from Syria, and has condemned that, but added that those weapons were “locally produced.”
While the two leaders were still talking, US officials disclosed that Russia had started drone surveillance missions in Syria.
On Sept. 16, debkafile’s sources warned that, like US President Barack Obama, who never tires of pledging his commitment to Israel’s security, yet turns his back on Iran’s pursuit of its ambition to destroy Israel, Putin too would have little time for Israel’s fundamental security concerns.
debkafile reported before the meeting: On Saturday, Sept. 19, just two days before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the presidential dacha outside Moscow, troops at the Russian base outside the coastal Syrian city of Latakia were seen preparing to deploy batteries of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Their presence in Syria will raise major questions, one of which is this: against which air power are they deployed, given the fact that the Islamic State has no air force.
Their deployment therefore poses troubling ramifications for the ongoing Syrian civil war as well as the region as a whole. For Israel, the placement of S-300 missiles in Syria is problematic for three reasons:
1. They seriously reduce the Israeli Air Force’s freedom of action in Lebanese and Syrian airspace.
2. Following a spate of contradictory and muddled statements about Moscow’s intentions to withhold the S-300s from Syria and Iran – an apparent smoke screen -, it turns out that they are coming to Syria after all.
3. The Russians say they are building up military strength in Syria to fight ISIS. But neither ISIS nor any other regional power poses an air threat to the Russian deployment. So the state-of-the-art air defense missile delivered to Syria, to which Iran too has access, does pose a threat to Israel’s security.
Its deployment in Syria appears to signal that Putin has a long game for his military buildup in Syria – more far-reaching that it would appear.
Each day brings news of more Russian forces arriving in Syria. At first, reports said several hundred marines were being deployed, but now preparations are being made for 2,000 of them.
A similar process is occurring with the deployment of anti-aircraft missiles. Initially, reports said that Moscow was providing Syria with the SA-22, known as the Pantsir-S1, but those missiles never arrived. Now, it appears that the S-300 is to be deployed instead.
The arrival of four advanced multi-role Sukhoi 30SM (Flanker) tactical jets in Latakia on Sept. 18 has also raised eyebrows. It came just hours after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an effort to prevent collisions between US and Russian forces operating in Syria. As those jets are intended for air-to-air combat, observers wonder which forces are to be targeted. The same question hangs over the half a dozen MiG-31 interceptors, which landed in Damascus earlier this month.
So what is Putin’s real game in Syria?
In another development that was only noticed in very few circles in the West and Israel, Iranian Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, military advisor of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on ‘Friday, Sept. 18: “Russia moves in coordination with Iran in some regional issues including Syria.”
In other words, the US and Israel, which are attempting to coordinate their military steps with those of Russia, have already fallen behind.
Reports in Israel over the last few days have claimed that Putin was keen on holding the summit even more than Netanyahu, and that the Israeli Air Force had started setting up a mechanism for liaison with the Russian Air Force in order to prevent inadvertent collisions.
But these plans have been overtaken by events,
There is no doubt that Netanyahu is making a bold statement by bringing to the Kremlin meeting the IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot and the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi. This is the first time such high-ranking military officers have participated in a meeting of the Israeli and Russian leaders.
debkafile’s sources in Moscow report that Putin will be attended by his national security advisor, Nikolai Patrushev. This is the Russian president’s way of indicating that, for him, the talks will focus on a general assessment of the Syrian situation, whereas Israel is seeking a discussion on the military aspects of the growing Russian intervention..
In this context, it should be mentioned that, when the commander of Iran’s Al-Qods brigades, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, visited Moscow 10 days ago, the most senior Russian official he met was Patrushev.