Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was pleased to greet Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu when he arrived in Israel on Monday, but was faced with a difficult task as well, having to balance diplomacy with delivering unpleasant news about what was going on up north as the two minister were meeting.
Shoigu had just arrived for his first visit since taking office in 2012, and the first visit by a Russian defense minister to Israel in years, but landed in Tel Aviv just in time to hear about the firefight between Israel and the Syrian regime, about 50 miles from Damascus.
Israel Air Force fighter pilots dropped four bombs on an SA-5 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile defense system battery after it had been used to fire an interceptor missile at Israeli aircraft conducting a routine reconnaissance flight over neighboring Lebanon a few hours earlier.
The Syrians claimed to have hit an Israeli aircraft. Israel said no one was hit and everyone returned safely to base. Three hours later, however, IAF aircraft returned to destroy the battery that fired at its aircraft. The timing was, to say the least, awkward, given that the exchange took place with Russia’s ally, Syria.
Israel has made it clear that although it informed Russia of its intentions in order to ensure security coordination, it did not seek permission for the strike in response to the crossing of an Israeli red line: a direct attack on one of its aircraft, or the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was faced with greeting his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“I am very glad to see the Russian defense minister in the State of Israel,” said Liberman, telling reporters, “This is the first visit, and the first visit of a defense minister has exceptional importance.”
Liberman acknowledged that Russia and Israel don’t always necessarily agree on everything, “but we always speak directly and openly. We believe that the moment there’s open dialogue you can overcome all problems,” he said.
He told Shoigu on Monday, “We won’t get involved in the internal affairs of Syria, but by the same token we also won’t allow Iran and Hezbollah to transform Syrian territory into an advance military operating base against Israel.”
Israel, said Liberman, is “operating responsibly and with determination” in Syria.
“We will not allow the transfer of advanced weaponry by Iran through Syria to Lebanon” he said, and Israel will act without hesitation if Iran and/or its proxies continue to entrench themselves along the Syrian-Israeli border.