Netanyahu to meet Putin next week as Iran tensions rise
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Netanyahu to meet Putin next week as Iran tensions rise

Talks held ahead of expected Trump decision to pull out of Iran nuclear deal; PM also to participate in WWII victory parade in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday amid escalating tensions with Iran and an expected decision on ending the Iran nuclear deal.

Netanyahu will fly to Moscow for talks on “regional issues,” a brief statement from Netanyahu’s office said Saturday, noting the meeting was a follow-up to a conversation between the two leaders last week.

Netanyahu has frequently spoken with Putin as Israel seeks to get Moscow to use its influence to halt Iran’s attempts to spread its influence deep into Syria and Lebanon on Israel’s northern border.

The talks will also come just days before the May 12 deadline in which US President Donald Trump will decide on whether or not to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Israel revealed this week that Mossad agents had stolen Iran’s secret nuclear archive, indicating the extent of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Israel has invited Russia, along with other nations, to examine the material.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschon)

During the visit Netanyahu will also take part in a parade to commemorate the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, the statement said.

The two leaders also spoke in early April with Putin urging Netanyahu to avoid any steps that could increase instability in Syria.

Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel would continue to counter Iran’s efforts to build up its military presence in the war-torn country.

In the call, “Putin stressed the fundamental importance of respecting the sovereignty of Syria, called for refraining from any actions that might further destabilize the situation in this country and pose a threat to its security,” the official Russian Sputnik news agency reported.

It said the call, which had been at the initiative of the Israeli prime minister, addressed “the Syrian issue… including in connection with the recent missile strikes on the T-4 airfield in Homs by the Israeli Air Force.”

The Prime Minister’s office said that Netanyahu “reiterated that Israel will not permit an Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.”

Netanyahu said that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the Jewish state, appearing to indirectly refer to the predawn missile strike on the air base, which reportedly killed 14 people, including seven Iranians.

Photo released by Iranian media reportedly show the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage Monday. (Iranian media)

In line with its policy of ambiguity on attacks outside the country’s borders, Israel has refused to comment directly on the attack, despite being blamed by Iran and Russia.

A report from Israel’s Hadashot TV news, quoting what it said were numerous foreign reports, said that the target of the attack was not a missile shipment, but rather an “advanced system” that could have complicated or undermined Israeli air superiority in the skies of Lebanon and Syria.

Israel has regularly expressed its concern about the Iranian presence in Syria, fearing the long-term establishment of hostile forces in the neighboring country.

The Israel Air Force conducted a previous airstrike against the T-4, also known as Tiyas, base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army.

That incursion sparked a series of aerial clashes that resulted in the Iranian aircraft being shot down, an Israeli F-16I getting hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire and crashing in a field, and a significant percentage of Syria’s air defenses being destroyed in retaliation.

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