Netanyahu to Putin: Israel will act if needed against Iran in Syria
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Netanyahu to Putin: Israel will act if needed against Iran in Syria

'We will act when necessary according to our red lines,' PM says he told Russian president during 3-hour meeting in Sochi

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 23, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 23, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel was willing to act to prevent a continued Iranian military presence in Syria, during a three-hour meeting between the two leaders in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“Most of the discussion dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish a foothold in Syria in the places where ISIS was defeated and is leaving,” Netanyahu said following the meeting.

“The victory over ISIS is welcome. Iran’s entry is unwelcome, endangering us, and in my opinion, endangering the region and the world,” Netanyahu added.

His comments echoed those of Mossad intelligence agency chief Yossi Cohen, who was also present at the Sochi meeting, who said last week that as the Islamic State group is beaten back, Iran and its proxies are rushing in to take over its territory.

Netanyahu said that he “spoke to President Putin very clearly about our positions on this matter and the fact that this is unacceptable to us.”

Buildings at a site near the northern Syrian city of Banias that are reportedly part of an Iranian missile factory under construction. (Screen capture: Google Maps)
Buildings at a site near the northern Syrian city of Banias that are reportedly part of an Iranian missile factory under construction. (Screen capture: Google Maps)

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.”

Cohen reportedly provided Putin with “sensitive, credible and very disturbing detailed intelligence” on Iran’s military presence in Syria during the meeting.

The visit comes after a senior Israeli delegation reportedly shared the same evidence with the Americans last week. Israel is striving to limit Iran’s expansion in the region.

Iran is said to be trying to forge a land corridor from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon, where its ally Hezbollah operates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Netanyahu last met with Putin in Moscow in March, but the two have spoken by phone frequently since.

“The two set the meeting to discuss the latest developments in the region,” a Saturday statement from the PMO said, adding that “it must be noted that in the last two years Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with President Putin every few months to discuss bilateral and regional issues with the intention of preventing any clashes between Israeli and Russian air forces in Syria, with success until now.”

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.

While Israel has rarely acknowledged carrying out its own airstrikes in Syria, numerous raids on weapons transfers have been attributed to Jerusalem.

Despite the coordination between the two countries, some of the reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria on weapons convoys have led to tensions between Jerusalem and Moscow.

In April, Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to protest a reported Israeli strike that nearly hit Russian troops stationed in the area. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer grants Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.

Netanyahu subsequently denied reports Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in Syria, vowing that the IDF would continue attacking weapons convoys.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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