Netanyahu threatens to ‘stop’ Iran if it tries to entrench itself in Syria

Netanyahu threatens to ‘stop’ Iran if it tries to entrench itself in Syria

PM tells Putin Lebanon is becoming a missile factory that poses a grave threat to Israel; ‘these are not idle words’

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday that if Iran continues to try and entrench itself in Syria, Israel will “stop it.”

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing, moments before taking off Russia en route to Tel Aviv.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will cannot accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran.

“I explained our policy. These are not idle words,” he added. “The Russians understand our position, they understand well the significance that we give to these threats,” he said, acknowledging, however, that he could not say the Russians “accepted” the Israeli position.

Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, Netanyahu said.

The prime minister said he and Putin also discussed the nuclear deal with Iran. “I raised our objections and also those I heard from US President [Donald] Trump. I can’t speak for the Russian position, but they understood that if certain changes weren’t made, it is very possible that the US would make good on its threat” to withdraw from the deal.

Netanyahu arrived in Moscow earlier Monday and had three separate meetings, spending several hours with the Russian president. He described the talks as “frank, very straightforward, in the positive sense of the word.”

Also on Monday, the two leaders visited the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, where they viewed  an exhibit  dedicated to the 1943 uprising at the Nazi death camp, Sobibor, in occupied Poland, that was led by Jewish inmate and Red Army officer Alexandr Pechersky.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as they tour the Judaism and Tolerance Museum in Moscow, Russia, on January 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu was accompanied on the trip by National Security Council head Meir Ben Shabbat and Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, among other officials.

Over the past year, Israel has warned repeatedly against Iranian efforts to set up weapons production facilities in Lebanon and establish a presence near the Israeli border with Syria.

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 during a seven-year civil war.

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.”

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.

As a gift, the Russian president handed him an original letter that Oskar Schindler sent to his wife, Netanyahu said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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