Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Russia on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and give him top-secret intelligence on Iran’s military expansion in the region.
“Iran is making an accelerated effort to entrench itself militarily in Syria. This poses a danger to Israel, the Middle East and in my opinion the world itself,” the prime minister said, with Putin at his side, at their talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Netanyahu told Putin that while Israel welcomed the ongoing military operations against the Islamic State group, Iran is filling the void in Syria created by the terror group’s defeat.
“All of us are winning in the tremendous international effort against Daesh, which is a praiseworthy thing, but what is not praiseworthy is that Iran enters the places that Daesh leaves,” Netanyahu said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
“We don’t for a second forget that Iran continues to threaten Israel’s destruction on a daily basis,” the prime minister said. “It arms terrorist organizations and initiates terror itself. It is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles with the intention to equip them with nuclear warheads.”
“For all of these reasons, Israel opposes Iran’s continued entrenchment in Syria. We will make sure we defend ourselves using every means against this threat.”
Addressing Iran military expansion in the region, Netanyahu said “Iran is already in the advances stages of taking over Iraq and Yemen, and, in effect, already controls Lebanon.”
Netanyahu was joined on his trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who was reportedly providing Putin with “sensitive, credible and very disturbing detailed intelligence” on Iran’s military presence in Syria, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily’s intelligence correspondent reported.
The visit comes after a senior Israeli delegation reportedly shared the same evidence with the Americans last week. Israel is striving to limit Iran’s expansion into the region.
However, there was “grave concern” in Israel after Cohen and other senior intelligence officials failed to obtain an American commitment during their trip. Israel has been pushing the US, and now Russia, not to support a peace deal in Syria that allows Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group to keep boots on the ground.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Wednesday that Israel has updated the US on the upcoming meeting with Putin, the Walla news site reported.
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Perhaps reflecting the seriousness of the issue, Netanyahu received a rare display of support from his political foes for his mission to Putin.
“The Iranian effort to establish a continuous territorial arch from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea is a danger to security. It is good that Netanyahu is trying to block the intolerable front of threats against Israel,” former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon tweeted. Ya’alon has been one of Netanyahu’s most vocal foes in recent months since he was fired from his position.
Labor party head Avi Gabbay said he “wishes the prime minister luck in his meeting with the Russian president, although I am not optimistic.”
“The Iranians, mainly the Shiite militias they brought to Syria, are the true power on the ground,” he added.
Ahead of the meeting with Putin, Netanyahu held consultations with his top security officials on Tuesday.
“I will discuss with (Putin) Iran’s accelerated attempt to establish a military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“This attests, of course, to Iran’s aggression which has not lessened in the wake of the nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that “this also presents a problem not only to Israel, but rather to all the nations of the Middle East and the entire world.”
In addition to Cohen, Netanyahu is also being joined on the trip by newly appointed National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat.
The pair will sit in on the meetings with the Russian leader, during which Netanyahu is expected to raise concerns over a ceasefire in Syria brokered by Washington and Moscow. Israel has opposed the deal, saying it does not properly address Israel’s concerns about Iranian ambitions in the region.
Iran is said to be trying to forge a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon, where its ally Hezbollah operates.
Netanyahu last met with Putin in Moscow in March, but the two have spoken by phone frequently since then.
“The two set the meeting to discuss the latest developments in the region,” a Saturday statement from the PMO said, adding that “it must be noted that in the last two years Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with President Putin every few months to discuss bilateral and regional issues with the intention of preventing any clashes between Israeli and Russian air forces in Syria, with success until now.”
Russia entered the Syrian civil war in 2015 in support of the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, carrying out bombing runs against rebel groups fighting against Damascus. Assad is also backed by Iran, which has provided the embattled Syrian leader with money, men and materiel.
While Israel has rarely acknowledged carrying out its own airstrikes in Syria, numerous raids on weapons transfers have been attributed to Jerusalem.
Despite the coordination between the two countries, some of the reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys have led to tensions between Jerusalem and Moscow.
In April, Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to protest a reported Israeli strike that nearly hit Russian troops stationed in the area. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer grants Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.
Netanyahu subsequently denied reports Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in Syria, vowing that the IDF would continue attacking weapons convoys.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.