A Likud minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday denied a report by a Russian news outlet seen as close to Vladimir Putin that the Russian president rejected the prime minister’s entreaty to curb Iranian military expansion in Syria during last week’s meeting between the two leaders.
While Putin told Netanyahu at their talks in Sochi last Wednesday that “Israel is also an important partner for Russia in the region,” he stressed that “Iran is Russia’s strategic ally in the Middle East” and declined to abandon Russia’s alliance with the Islamic Republic, Pravda reported Friday.
Citing unnamed sources present at the start of the meeting, the report said Netanyahu was “was too emotional and at times even close to panic” as he warned Putin against the threat Iran poses to Israel and regional stability.
Environmental Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a Russian speaker who was present at the meeting, dismissed the report as “fake news.”
“Whoever wants to continue to listen to Pravda can continue to listen to Pravda,” Elkin told Radio 103FM on Tuesday, dismissing the Pravda account of what went on behind closed doors as inaccurate and unsourced and saying that what it claimed were facts were, rather, the writer’s unfounded speculation.
Quotes that Pravda said came from the private part of the talks were, in fact, drawn entirely from Netanyahu and Putin’s remarks to the press prior to the start of the closed door meeting, Elkin added.
While refusing to comment on whether Netanyahu was able to convince Putin to rein in Iran’s regional military ambitions, Elkin said the meeting would have “very important implications.”
Channel 2 also quoted unnamed sources close to the prime minister dismissing the Pravda account of the talks.
While conceding that Israel has legitimate concerns regarding Iranian support for terror, the Pravda report said Russia views Iran as a counterbalance to US influence in the region.
In light of this, the report said, while Russia views Israel as a friend, “it is not up to Tel Aviv to teach the Kremlin how to structure Russia’s policy in the Middle East.”
In remarks at the start of his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu told the Russian leader that Iran is a threat not only to Israel but “the world itself.”
“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.
“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.”
Speaking to Israeli journalists in a conference call after the meeting, Netanyahu said he told Putin that Israel would take action if its “red lines” were crossed.
“We will act when necessary according to our red lines,” Netanyahu said. “In the past, we have done this without asking permission, but we have provided an update on what our policy is.”
During the meeting, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen reportedly provided Putin with “sensitive, credible and very disturbing detailed intelligence” on Iran’s military presence in Syria, according to the Ynet news outlet.
The visit came after a senior Israeli delegation reportedly shared the same evidence with the US a week before. Israel is striving to limit Iran’s expansion in the region, and fears a ceasefire backed by Moscow and Washington could help entrench Tehran along Israel’s border.
Iran is said to be trying to forge a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon, where its ally Hezbollah operates.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.