If Iran is not stopped from entrenching itself militarily in Syria or turning Lebanon into a “factory for precision missiles” aimed at Israel, then Israel will stop it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.
Speaking with Israeli reporters via a conference call after the meeting, Netanyahu said the discussions took place at a “watershed” moment.
“Will Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped?” Netanyahu said. “I made clear to Putin that we will stop it if it doesn’t stop by itself. We are already acting to stop it.”
The prime minister said he also spoke with Putin about the threat of Iran manufacturing precision weapons in Lebanon
, something Jerusalem views as “a grave threat.” Netanyahu said he told Putin that “also here, if we need to act, we will act.”
Netanyahu’s comments on Lebanon come as Israel is launching a diplomatic campaign warning that it will not tolerate precision missiles manufactured in Lebanon.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday Israel was using “all the options” to prevent the production of missiles in Lebanon, including “political leverage.”
A day earlier, IDF Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis warned in a rare op-ed on a Lebanese opposition website that a war with Israel could break out if Iran develops precision missiles in the country.
Netanyahu flew to Russia for the day on Monday for his seventh face-to-face meeting with Putin in two years.
The two leaders also speak frequently on the phone, and Netanyahu described Israel- Russia ties as “excellent.”
The meeting came less than a week after he met US President Donald Trump in Davos, and he said that he spoke with the Russian leader about the same issues concerning Syria and Iran that he spoke about with Trump. Both men, he said, “understand” Israel’s positions.
Netanyahu was accompanied by the head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, and Putin brought Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to the talks.
Netanyahu and Putin met for some 90 minutes privately, and also held talks on bilateral issues with their wider staffs. Netanyahu said the discussions were “concrete,” not “theoretical.”
With the Russian army just across the border in Syria, Netanyahu said that these meetings with Putin – and the type of cooperation that has developed between the defense establishments of both countries – is critical “so we don’t clash.”
In addition, he said these meetings are also important because they allow the two sides to frankly tell the other about their positions.
“In light of the changing situation, our policies also change,” Netanyahu said, adding that he relays to Putin Israel’s positions as “clearly and truthfully” as possible.
Netanyahu said he and Putin talked about various “scenarios of escalation” in the region, and how they can be dealt with. Netanyahu said that with the Mideast at a crossroads, there is an opportunity to stabilize Syria and Lebanon, but that there is one actor – Iran – which is trying to do the opposite.
The prime minister said he raised the issue of the Iranian nuclear deal, and he told Putin that if changes were not made to the deal, then it was likely that the US would walk away from it.
The meeting took place at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, where the two leaders took part in the opening of an exhibit to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day call called “Sobibor: Victorious over Death,” which is dedicated to the 1943 uprising in the Nazi extermination camp. The exhibit tells the story of Alexander Pechersky, a Red Army officer who led a successful breakout from the camp.
Netanyahu thanked Putin for coming to the museum, and he said their joint appearance “reflects our common struggle against the greatest evil that humanity has known, and the awful price paid by my people, the Jewish people, and the Russian people and the great sacrifice of 20 million Russians alongside our 6 million, and the heroism of the Red Army in achieving victory over the Nazis.”
Netanyahu said the “main lesson of the rise of the Nazis and, afterward, their defeat, is that one needs to take a strong and timely stand against murderous ideologies.” The prime minister said this is “also our mission today” and the reason he came to Russia: “our common efforts to promote security and stability in our region.”
Putin said that memory of the Holocaust is “a warning against any attempt to jump on the idea of global domination, to announce, build or assert one’s grandeur based on racism, ethnic or any other supremacy. Russia categorically rejects any such attempt.
The history of the 20th century shows to what extent the consequences of such essentially anti-human ideology can lead.”
Putin gave Netanyahu as a gift a letter the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who save some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, sent to his wife. Netanyahu said he will pass it on to Yad Vashem.