Putin and Netanyahu talk about Syria amid concerns about Russian missiles sale

MOSCOW (AP)— Russian President Vladimir Putin met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for talks that focused on the situation in Syria, amid concerns that Moscow could soon provide Damascus with advanced missiles.

Israeli officials have asked Russia to stop what they say is an imminent delivery of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Syria.

However, neither leader mentioned the missiles in their brief opening remarks and concluding statements after the talks. They took no questions from reporters. Their refusal to mention the missile issue in public and their friendly tone may reflect an understanding reached in talks that lasted several hours.

Putin wrapped up the meeting by saying that Russia and Israel share concern about the situation in Syria. He said that he and Netanyahu believe that the conflict in Syria is fraught with negative consequences for the entire region, adding that they agreed to follow the situation through personal contacts and links between Russian and Israeli special services.

“Only a quick cessation of hostilities and a political settlement can prevent a negative scenario,” Putin said. “At this sensitive moment, it’s particularly important to avoid any action that could destabilize the situation.”

Putin hailed what he described as close ties between the two countries, and Netanyahu responded in kind and invited Putin to make another trip to Israel.

Netanyahu added that the volatile situation in the Middle East requires action to improve security. “The region around us is very unstable and explosive, and therefore I am glad for the opportunity to examine together new ways to stabilize the area and bring security and stability to the area,” he said at the start of the talks.

The warm statements and assurances of mutual friendship contrasted with sharp criticism by Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, who on Monday accused Russia destabilizing the Middle East by selling weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. “Anyone who provides weaponry to terror organizations is siding with terror,” Landau said.

Russia has continued to ship weapons to Syria despite the civil war there, but so far has refrained from providing Damascus with the S-300s, a powerful weapon that has a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously with lethal efficiency.

The weapon would mean a quantum leap in Syria’s air defense capability, including against neighboring countries that oppose Assad’s regime.

Israel attacked suspected shipments of advanced Iranian missiles in Syria with back-to-back airstrikes this month. Israeli officials signaled there would be more attacks unless Syria refrains from trying to deliver such “game-changing” missiles to ally Hezbollah, an anti-Israel militia in Lebanon and key Syrian ally. Hezbollah said weapons shipments won’t cease.

Netanyahu in his concluding statement emphasized the need for Israel to protect its people, adding that “deep and thorough discussions” with Russia would help find ways to improve regional stability.