Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to meet in Moscow next week to discuss the Kremlin’s expanding role in Syria’s civil war.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced the trip Wednesday and said Mr. Netanyahu plans to tell the Russian leader that the delivery of warheads and troops to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad could have grave repercussions.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu will present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war material to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organizations,” his office said in a statement.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Mr. Putin, told Russian media that “a short working visit and talks” will take place Monday between the two leaders.
The scheduled meeting will take place amid reports that Russia has started supplying the Syrian military with troops and weaponry to combat opposition forces, including the self-declared Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday that Russia appears ready to establish a forward air operating base in Syria, south of Latakia, and U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity told
Reuters that Mr. Putin had moved no fewer than seven T-90 tanks into the Assad regime stronghold and were readying an air defense system for deployment.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, said during a Senate hearing Wednesday morning that the Pentagon fears increased participation from Russia in Syria “could increase the friction in that battlespace significantly.”
“What they’ve stated is what they want to focus on is helping to counter ISIL, as I understand it. That’s left to be seen. And as you know, Russia is not very transparent, and so we really don’t know what their true intentions are,” Gen. Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Tuesday and “made clear that Russia’s continued support for President Assad risks exacerbating and extending the conflict, and undermining our shared goal of fighting extremism if we do not also remain focused on finding a solution to the conflict in Syria via a genuine political transition,” according to the State Department.
Roughly 250,000 Syrians have died in the nearly five-year civil war that has raged under Mr. Assad’s control, and millions of others have fled the country, creating the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. The U.S. has repeatedly condemned the Syrian government’s policies throughout the war, and last year began conducting airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Next week’s trip will mark Mr. Netanyahu’s first to Moscow in nearly two years and will be followed a week later with a visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York.