It has been revealed that Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy on Syria, secretly visited Israel last Thursday to discuss developments in the Syrian conflict as world leaders push to a diplomatic solution.
The visit comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation last Tuesday in which Netanyahu reportedly offered his backing to a new UN Security Council resolution to end almost five years of fighting in Syria.
It is not clear if Lavrentiev met with Netanyahu as the Israeli Foreign Ministry has thus far declined to answer questions posed by reporters, but Putin’s newly-appointed envoy was said to have arrived in a special Russian Air Force aircraft and was accompanied by a large delegation.
The delegation also included the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Middle East chief Sergey Vershinin, as well as Russian intelligence officials. According to Haaretz news, the delegation was hosted by the newly appointed head of the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, Yossi Cohen.
Among topics reportedly discussed were the transfer or arms to the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, which has played an active role in the Syrian conflict on the side of Bashar al Assad’s regime.
Israel has been concerned by Russia’s arms provisions to Iran and the Assad regime, fearing the weapons could wind up in the hands of Hezbollah, and has carried out a number of air strikes on Hezbollah targets in the country since the war began, most recently killing top Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar in an alleged air strike on the Syrian capital Damascus on Dec. 20.
So far in the Syrian conflict, Israel has killed six Hezbollah commanders, including the son of the Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah commander who was assassinated by Israeli agents in Damascus in 2008.
Sporadic exchanges of fire have also occurred between Israeli forces in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Assad regime forces in the Syrian-controlled side of the region.
As part of his tour of the region, Lavrentiev had also visited five other countries, starting with a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad, before moving on to Jordan’s Amman. After his trip to Israel, Lavrentiev continued his tour to Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and then to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The Russian diplomat notably skipped Saudi Arabia, with speculation that a planned visit to Riyadh was cancelled following the assassination of Saudi-backed Syrian opposition figure Zahran Alloush by a Russian air strike over the weekend.
Russia has been conducting air strikes in Syria since Sept. 30 in support of the embattled Assad regime. In a report published by Amnesty International last week, Russia was condemned for using “unguided bombs in densely populated areas" which have caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians.