Israel has asked Russia for humanitarian assistance in Syria, according to multiple media reports, after a brief, unscheduled meeting of the cabinet concluded on Tuesday. Ministers were told about the meeting less than an hour before it started and informed that it dealt with a “sensitive security matter.”
The details of the meeting, held after weeks of constant communication between top Israeli officials and their Russian counterparts, were largely withheld from the media by the military censor.
Russia is closely allied with the Syrian regime and has often served as a mediator between Jerusalem and Damascus, as the two countries do not maintain formal ties. Israel has now asked Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime in Syria to help with the humanitarian efforts.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone. This was followed by another phone call between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.
Gantz’s office hinted at the topic of discussion afterward. It is possible that the latest meeting is an extension of what’s being discussed between the two countries since last week.
“The two agreed to continue the important discussions between Russia and Israel about the need to advance humanitarian efforts in the region,” Gantz’s office said in a statement
Earlier this month, the Syrian media reported that the Russian military had begun searches in a cemetery near a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus, in attempts to locate the remains of two Israeli soldiers missing since 1982.
Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz went missing in the 1982 First Lebanon War’s battle of Sultan Yacoub, along with Zachary Baumel, whose remains were recovered and returned to Israel in 2019.
Russia and Israel have worked together on several occasions in Syria. The two countries also have a deconfliction mechanism in place, which allows Israeli jets to strike Iranian targets in Syria without threatening Russian forces.
Israel has gradually taken a central role in the conflict in Syria and has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as Syrian government troops.