Netanyahu touts Israeli action in Syria in pre-election trip to Putin

MOSCOW, Peter Spinella and Tamara Zieve (dpa)- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the importance of his country's freedom of military action as it deems necessary in neighbouring Syria during a pre-election visit to Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
"The Syrian arena is the main one. ... It is important that we continue to maintain freedom of action ... against Iranian, Hezbollah and other terrorist targets," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Netanyahu's trip to meet Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in the southern Russian resort city of Sochi came less than a week before critical elections in Israel.
Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party is preparing for a tight race against its centrist rivals. The base of Israeli voters with ties to the former Soviet Union is a significant factor in the elections.
The Sochi meeting was expected to have an emphasis on strengthening military cooperation between Israel and Russia, particularly concerning war-torn Syria.
The civil war in Syria, which borders Israel, is a major source of instability in the Middle East. Despite backing the Syrian and Iranian governments - Israeli adversaries - Russia has managed to maintain warm relations with Israel.
Coordination between Russia and Israel is "especially important" as "we have seen in recent months a sharp rise in attempts by Iran to use Syrian territory for attacks against us," Netanyahu told Putin in opening comments during their meeting.
Putin also noted the importance of security cooperation between Russia and Israel, and said he would visit Israel next year, Russian state media reported.
On the upcoming elections, Putin expressed hope that whoever wins will maintain the close bilateral relationship between the countries.
Israel insists that Iran withdraw from Syria, a point emphasized in a statement released by Netanyahu's office ahead of the visit.
Israel's coordination with Russia and is intended to "advance the common goal ... which has yet to be achieved and which is far from being achieved, and that is the withdrawal of Iran from Syria," the statement said.
While Russia has not confirmed rumours that it could use its influence to remove Iranian military forces from Syria, it has insisted on Syrian state sovereignty over the territory.
In a blow to Netanyahu a day before the trip, Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed opposition to the Israeli leader's declaration that Israel would annex the disputed Jordan Valley if he is re-elected.
Palestinians have also claimed the Jordan Valley, within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as part of a future Palestinian state separate from Israel.
"Moscow has taken note of the Arab countries' highly negative reaction to ... Netanyahu regarding his intention to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Annexing the Jordan Valley could "lead to a dramatic escalation of tensions in the region and undermine hopes for a long awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours," the Russian side said.
Russia believes that Israelis and Palestinians should enact a comprehensive political settlement based on the "two-state solution to be implemented within the 1967 borders," the statement said.
As part of his electoral campaign, Netanyahu has touted his relations with world leaders and has held a series of diplomatic and security-related meetings.
Last month Netanyahu met Ukraine's recently inaugurated president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in what was the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to that former Soviet republic in two decades.
"We have hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from Ukraine who constitute a living bridge between the two countries, and the link between us is tightening," Netanyahu said at the time.

Friday, September 13th 2019
Peter Spinella and Tamara Zieve (dpa)

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