By Jesse Lempel/TPS
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a face to face meeting in Moscow on Thursday that Israel would not relinquish the Golan Heights. The meeting marked 25 years of Israeli-Russian relations.
“Israel has clear red lines for self-defense,” Netanyahu told Putin according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office. “We act to the best of our ability to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said.
Russian troops and airpower are fighting alongside the Syrian army, Iranian forces, and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah against a host of rebel militias in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Netanyahu recently acknowledged that Israel conducts military airstrikes in Syria as well.
“I came here with one central goal: to strengthen the security coordination between us in order to prevent accidents, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflict,” Netanyahu told Putin.
“As for the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu continued, “we will not return to the days when they fired on our communities and children from the heights of the Golan. Therefore, with or without a deal, the Golan Heights will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
The firm declaration comes amid reports that some in the international community intend to demand that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal in the Syrian civil war. Israel captured the northern territory from Syria in the 1967 war and formally annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized by the international community.
To counter such an initiative, Netanyahu held a rare cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights on Sunday, vowing never to withdraw from the territory. Following the unusual public display, US State Department Spokesman John Kirby announced that “those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.”
Netanyahu and Putin also reached an agreement about pensions paid by Russia to citizens that have emigrated to Israel—a deal Netanyahu described as “a nice Passover present.”
After Putin offered a blessing for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on Friday night, Netanyahu replied that “during the holiday, the people of Israel will sit at the Seder table, including over a million Russian-speaking Israelis, who form the living bond between our peoples.”