After Putin meet, PM indicates Moscow won’t curtail Israeli strikes in Syria
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After Putin meet, PM indicates Moscow won’t curtail Israeli strikes in Syria

After spending nearly an entire day with Russian president, Netanyahu says he reiterated Jerusalem’s ‘right and duty’ to do whatever it takes to ensure Israel’s safety

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Wrapping up a day-long visit to Moscow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening said he has no reason to believe the Kremlin will attempt to limit Israel’s freedom of operation in the region, an apparent reference to alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu reiterated Jerusalem’s determination to continue to act militarily against Iran’s ongoing entrenchment in Syria.

“I told President Putin that it is our right and indeed our duty to take any steps required for to safeguard our security interests,” the prime minister told reporters on a telephone briefing from Moscow airport, minutes before taking off en route back to Tel Aviv.

In the past it has been suggested that Putin would seek to curtail or stop entirely Israel’s freedom of operation over Syrian skies, but these predictions have failed to materialize, Netanyahu said. “I have no basis for thinking that things will be different this time.”

Netanyahu declined to provide any detail about the conversation he had with Putin, merely saying that his conversations in the Kremlin are always “thorough and effective.” He refused to answer if Putin asked the Israeli air force to refrain from violating Syrian airspace, as the Russian president did last month, following an alleged Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in the war-torn country.

“I said that we will always maintain our right and our duty to take all actions required to defend ourselves against Iranian aggression. I think this message was transmitted in a very deep, thorough and serious manner,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, right, attend a military parade celebrating 73 years of the victory the WWII in Red Square, Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP)

Netanyahu traveled to Moscow early Wednesday morning and spent nearly 10 hours in Putin’s presence — for a series of bilateral talks as well as to participate in several events to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

“We attended very moving events – the parade marking the victory over the Nazis and other events, and of course there were also good and useful talks,” Netanyahu said.

In his talks with Putin, Netanyahu detailed Israel’s stunning discovery and removal from Tehran of Iran’s own secret nuclear weapons archives. Russian intelligence officials will soon visit Israel to further examine the material, Netanyahu said.

“I presented Israel’s obligation and right to defend itself against Iranian aggression, from Syrian territory. The Iranians declare their intention to attack us. They are trying to transfer forces and deadly weapons there with the explicit goal of attacking the State of Israel as part of their strategy to destroy the State of Israel,” he said.

“I told President Putin that it is the right of every state, certainly it is Israel’s right, to take such steps as are necessary to defend itself against this aggression. I think that matters were presented in a direct and forthright manner, and this is important. These matters are very important to Israel’s security at all times and especially at this time.”

Netanyahu also said he was very moved to have been the first Israeli prime minister invited to participate in Russia’s VE Day military parade in Moscow’s Red Square, where he watched, among other things, military hardware the Russian army uses to support the Assad regime’s struggle against Syrian rebel groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, attend the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in Moscow on May 9, 2018. Russia marks the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. (AFP/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov)

“Sitting next to me, between us, was a veteran who was among the liberators of Auschwitz,” Netanyahu said during his meeting with Putin, recalling his participation in the military parade. “We will never forget the meaning of your sacrifice, of those soldiers, along with the half a million Jewish soldiers in the Red Army, in ensuring the fate of Russia, of humanity and of our people, the Jewish people.”

The Jewish people will also never forget World War II’s lesson of the “need to stand against a murderous ideology in time,” Netanyahu said. “It is unbelievable, but 73 years after the Holocaust, there is a country in the Middle East, Iran, that is calling for the destruction of anther six million Jews.”

He added: The difference is that today we have a state and I very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss regional problems with you, the attempts as you put it, to resolve the crises, to lift the threats in a prudent and responsible manner.”

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