Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to calm Israeli concerns over the deployment of Russian soldiers in Syria, telling visiting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his forces would act "responsibly," and noting the Syrian regime was in not fit state to attack Israel.
Netanyahu was accompanied on his trip to Moscow by his army and intelligence chiefs, in a rare step for an overseas visit that Israel said would focus on Russia's maneuvering in war-torn Syria.
"It was very important to come here in order to clarify our position and to do everything to avoid any misunderstandings between our forces," Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.
Netanyahu said he was determined to stop arms deliveries to the Hezbollah terrorist group that has been aiding Assad forces, and accused Syria's army and Iran of trying to create a "second front" against Israel. Iran has deployed hundreds of additional soldiers from its Revolutionary Guards Force in an effort to prevent flagging pro-Assad forces crumbling in the face of concerted rebel offensives on their western heartlands.
Putin for his part said Russia's actions in the Middle East "alway were and will be very responsible," and downplayed the threat by Syrian forces to Israel.
"We know and understand that the Syrian army and Syria in general is in such a state that it isn't up to opening a second front – it is trying to maintain its own statehood," he said in comments broadcast on Russian television.
The United States has said Russia – one of the few remaining allies of President Bashar al-Assad – recently sent troops, artillery and aircraft to Syria, sparking fears that Moscow could be preparing to fight alongside government forces.
Moscow argues that any such support falls in line with existing defense contracts, but Moscow and Washington on Friday launched military talks on the four-year-old conflict that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives.
Netanyahu's Moscow visit is believed to be primarily aimed at avoiding any possible clashes between Israeli and Russian jets that could operate over Syria.
Israeli military officials reportedly fear that any Russian air presence could cut their room for maneuver after several purported strikes on Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah through Syria in recent months that were not officially acknowledged by Israeli authorities.
Moscow has also been on a diplomatic push to get a US-led coalition of Western and regional powers fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group to join forces with Assad against the jihadists.
Israel opposes Assad's regime but has sought to avoid being dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria.
It also fears that Iran could increase its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups as international sanctions are gradually lifted under a July nuclear deal that Moscow helped negotiate between Tehran and world powers.
Netanyahu is set to fly to the United States for talks with President Barack Obama in November in a bid to ease tensions over the Iran deal.
AFP contributed to this report