Netanyahu says he will press Putin on Iranian missiles in Lebanon

Israel will not tolerate its northern neighbor becoming a ‘giant missile base,’ PM vows as he leaves for Moscow meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 9, 2017 (Israel embassy in Moscow)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 9, 2017 (Israel embassy in Moscow)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would press Russian President Vladimir Putin on keeping Iran from extending its footprint in the Middle East, including efforts to manufacture missiles in Lebanon.

Netanyahu left in the morning for a lightning trip to Moscow, where Iran is expected to be high on the agenda during his meeting with Putin.

“I will discuss with President Putin Iran’s relentless efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, which we strongly oppose and are also taking action against,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We will also discuss Iran’s effort to turn Lebanon into one giant missile site, a site for precision missiles against the State of Israel, which we will not tolerate,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu is accompanied on the trip, his latest in a series of jaunts to Moscow, by National Security Council head Meir Ben Shabbat and Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, among other officials.

Iranians walk past a Ghadr-F missile displayed at a Revolutionary Guard hardware exhibition, marking 36th anniversary of the outset of Iran-Iraq war, at Baharestan Sq. in downtown Tehran, Iran, September 25, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)

Over the past year, Israel has warned repeatedly against Iranian efforts to set up weapons production facilities in Lebanon.

Netanyahu’s comments echoed those of IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, who accused Iran of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory” in a rare Arabic op-ed published Sunday in Lebanese news outlets.

The Hezbollah terror group, a major political force in Lebanon, is widely considered an Iranian proxy group. Its troops have fought alongside Iranian and Russian forces helping Syrian President Bashar Assad battle a seven-year insurgency.

Israel has also warned against the establishment of Iranian missile factories in Syria, as well as the transfer of advanced weapons from that country to Hezbollah. Dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys bound for Lebanon have been attributed to Israel by foreign media reports.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has so far seemingly tolerated the reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria, despite having a large military presence in the country.

Netanyahu noted Monday that the talks with Putin were among the periodic meetings he holds with the Russian leader to “ensure the military coordination between the IDF and the Russian forces in Syria.”

To date, that coordination “has succeeded and it is important that it continue to succeed,” he added.

In this May 22, 2010 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher while explaining to the group various tactics and weapons used against Israeli soldiers on the battlefield. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

The Israeli and Russian militaries have a so-called deconfliction mechanism to ensure that they do not clash in Syrian skies. In recent months, top Israeli security advisers have met with their Russian counterparts regularly to maintain cooperation in that regard.

The two leaders last spoke when Netanyahu phoned Putin on December 31 and extended his greetings to the Russian people on the occasion of the civil new year. At the time the Kremlin described relations between Israel and Russia as being of “a friendly and constructive nature.”

Netanyahu and Putin last met in person in August 2017 in Sochi, on the Black Sea.

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