In Russia, PM warns Iran’s growing Syria role threatens Israel

Iran threatens to annihilate Israel, it arms terrorist groups and sponsors global terrorism, PM Netanyahu says in meeting with Russian President Putin • Netanyahu: Iran’s accelerated efforts to gain a military foothold in Syria reflect its aggression.

By Shlomo Cesana and Eli Leon, TOI

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on a short visit to Russia on Wednesday, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders, who met at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, discussed regional security issues, mainly Iran’s increased presence in Syria and Lebanon, Israel’s neighbors to the north.

Several senior defense officials joined Netanyahu’s trip, including Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi and newly appointed National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin is part of the delegation, as well.

Netanyahu and Putin met at noon, Wednesday. Their meeting was followed by a meeting of the larger forum of Israeli and Russian defense officials.

During the two leader’s meeting, Netanyahu said Iran’s growing role in Syria poses a threat to Israel, the Middle East and the world.

“Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is, that where the defeated Islamic State group vanishes, Iran is stepping in. We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel. It [Iran] arms terrorist organizations, it sponsors and initiates terror,” Netanyahu said.

Iran, he warned, “is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and to a large extent in already in practice in control of Lebanon.”

A Kremlin statement said Putin and Netanyahu “exchanged opinions on bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East, primarily Syria, on fighting international terrorism, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and other global and regional issues.”

Netanyahu and Putin have met several times since Russia became involved in the fighting in Syria in the fall of 2015. The leaders usually discuss issues pertaining to the coordination between Israel and Russia’s air force missions over Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon, but Wednesday’s meeting focused on Iran’s intentions to establish a base of operations in Syria, which would pose a direct threat to Israel.

The prime minister reportedly presented the Russian president with Israel’s concerns over the presence of Iranian troops and advisers in Syria and over the flow of Iranian weapons and military equipment into the war-torn country. The deal negotiated between Russia and the United States to end the Syrian conflict seems to ignore these concerns.

Allowing increased Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon could drag the entire Middle East into war, Netanyahu reportedly warned and further asked Putin to ensure that there is no permanent presence of Iranian, Hezbollah and Shiite militia forces in Syria.

The prime minister said Tuesday that he plans to alert Putin to “Iran’s accelerated efforts to gain a military foothold in Syria,” which he said “reflect Iran’s aggression, which has not been mitigated following the nuclear agreement. This poses a problem not only for Israel, but for all Middle East nations and the entire world.”

Cohen, Halevi and Defense Ministry Political-Military Affairs Bureau Director Zohar Palti, who visited Washington last week, conveyed similar concerns about Iran’s presence in Syria and Lebanon to American intelligence officials.

Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said the Israeli delegation received no assurances from the Americans to allay Israel’s concerns.

Earlier this month, Cohen briefed the government on Iran’s growing presence in Syria. At the meeting, Netanyahu noted that Israel “won’t allow it” and “will do what it takes” to prevent Iran and its proxies from tightening their grip on Syria.

Netanyahu made a similar statement during Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit in Israel last November.

Israel, he told Medvedev, “is determined to do two things: prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and prevent it from establishing military presence in Syria, on the ground, in the air or at sea.

“We are also determined to prevent Iran from bolstering Shiite militias on Syrian soil, and prevent it from arming Hezbollah with advanced weapons that are a threat to us,” Netanyahu said.

Tuesday saw Iran warn that it could resume high-level uranium enrichment within five days if the United States exits the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi said it would take Iran less than a week to ramp up its uranium enrichment to 20%, a level at which the material could be used for a nuclear weapon.

“Definitely, we are not interested in such a thing happening. We have not achieved the deal easily to let it go easily. We are committed to the deal and we are loyal to it,” Salehi said, adding that scrapping the nuclear deal would backfire on Washington and undermined its international credibility.

August 23, 2017 | Comments »

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