WASHINGTON — In a phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned each other about the repercussions of actions related to Iran’s presence in Syria.
“Upon an initiative of the Israeli side, a telephone conversation took place between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Sputnik, a Russian government-owned news agency, reported Wednesday, quoting the Kremlin.
“The Syrian issue was discussed, including the recent missile strikes on the T-4 airfield in Homs by the Israeli Air Force,” the report said. Israel has not acknowledged responsibility for the air attack, which killed 14 people, including a number of Iranian troops based in Syria. The attack came after reports that Syria used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians.
“Vladimir Putin stressed the fundamental importance of respecting the sovereignty of Syria and called for refraining from any actions that might further destabilize the situation in the country and pose a threat to its security,” the Kremlin said.
The readout from Netanyahu’s office of the same phone call said Israel would not tolerate a long-term Iranian presence in Syria.
“The Prime Minister reiterated that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” the statement said without noting who initiated the call.
Iran has been Russia’s de facto ally in Syria. Both countries are allied with the Assad regime, which has been endeavoring to quell an uprising since 2011 and is estimated to have killed as many as 700,000 Syrians. Also involved is Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that launched a war against Israel in 2006 and is behind terrorist attacks across the globe.
Israel has said repeatedly that it cannot tolerate an extended Iranian presence in Syria and reportedly has launched air raids to keep Iran from delivering weapons to Hezbollah.
“Do not test the determination of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu warned Iran on Wednesday, speaking to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah.
Netanyahu and President Donald Trump reportedly also had a tense exchange last week regarding Syria after Trump pledged to wind down U.S. involvement in the country. Some 2,000 U.S. troops have been assisting rebel factions aligned with the West. Netanyahu fears that a U.S. retreat from the conflict will allow Iran to expand its influence.
However, in the wake of last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime, Trump appears ready to intensify U.S. involvement in the region. On Wednesday, taking to Twitter, Trump warned Russia that U.S. missiles would soon strike Syria.