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Netanyahu discusses Iran with Putin after reports of possible S-400 sale

Conversation comes days after Russian ambassador to Tehran said Moscow would have ‘no problem’ selling it advanced air defense system when arms ban expires later this month

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Prime Minister's Residence, Jerualem, 23 January, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Prime Minister's Residence, Jerualem, 23 January, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone Wednesday, days after a Kremlin diplomat said Moscow could sell an ultra-advanced air defense system to Iran, in a move that could inflame regional tensions.

The leaders discussed Syria, Iran and the coronavirus fight, Netanyahu’s office said.

“During the conversation, regional security matters, the Iranian aggression and the situation in Syria were discussed,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The Russian ambassador to Iran said last week that Moscow would have “no problem” selling Tehran an advanced air defense system when the UN arms embargo on the Islamic Republic expires later this month.

“We have said since the very first day that there will be no problem for selling weapons to Iran from October 19,” Levan Dzhagaryan told the Resalat daily in an interview published Saturday, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

In August, the UN Security Council voted down a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which is now set to expire on October 18.

The Trump administration, however, unilaterally asserted last month that “snapback” UN sanctions are now in force and vowed to punish those that violate them.

Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan (Screen capture: YouTube)

Dzhagaryan brushed off the threat of US sanctions and said Moscow would consider any weapon requests from Iran after October 18.

“As you know we have provided Iran with S-300. Russia does not have any problem delivering S-400 to Iran and it did not have any problem before either,” he said.

Dzhagaryan was referring to the delivery of the S-300 to Iran following the signing of the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers that placed curbs on the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2010 Russia froze a deal to supply the system to Iran, linking the decision to UN sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Israel unsuccessfully sought to block the sale to Iran of the S-300 system, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, and would likely oppose providing Iran with the S-400.

Illustrative: Image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia in 2015 deployed the S-400 to Syria, where along with Iran it is fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.

The deployment of the system, which is powerful enough to track the vast majority of Israeli airspace, undercut Israel’s aerial superiority in Syria, where it has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets linked to Iran and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

“In addition, the two discussed advancing cooperation between the countries in the fight against the coronavirus,” Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu later told local authorities that he was in talks with the Russia and US to acquire rapid COVID-19 tests, according to the Kan public broadcaster. Jerusalem has touted rapid testing as a key component of keeping infection levels in check by tamping down on carriers spreading the disease.

The statement noted that Netanyahu wished Putin a happy birthday. Putin turned 68 on Wednesday.

There was no immediate statement from the Kremlin.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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