Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia February 27, 2019.
(photo credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS)
MOSCOW – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spent much of their meeting on Wednesday discussing Russia’s S-300 anti-missile systems in Syria, with Netanyahu saying afterward that Israel will continue to operate as it feels necessary against Iranian targets there.
In comments to reporters after the meeting, the prime minister said it was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Although Putin and Netanyahu met briefly in Paris in November, this was the first extended formal meeting the two leaders had since the downing of the Russian intelligence plane over Syria in September.
Senior diplomatic officials said that the incident was discussed during the meeting, but the two countries have now moved beyond it.
Accompanied by Head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hyman, Netanyahu said that intelligence information was presented to Putin, though he gave no details. This information is believed to deal with Iran’s positions inside Syria.
Netanyahu said that the issue of the S-300 was dealt with at great length and from every possible angle. These missile batteries were transferred to Syria after the plane incident.
“Israel will continue to operate as it needs to protect itself from Iranian aggression in Syria,” Netanyahu said. He also said it was made clear that Israel will do this while being in close coordination with the Russians to prevent unnecessary friction and accidents.
Netanyahu said that the objective of removing Iranian troops from Syria is not Israel’s alone.
He proposed setting up a team with others to promote the goal of removing from Syria all foreign forces on its soil and returning the situation regarding foreign troops to what it was before the start of the Syrian civil war. He said a team has been established to deal with this matter in Israel’s National Security Council.
During his briefing with journalists, Netanyahu refused to answer questions dealing with the possible decision on Thursday by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit about whether to indict him, saying he will deal with that when he returns to Israel.
Netanyahu arrived in Moscow at about 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, went to his hotel, and then to the Kremlin for a meeting with Putin that lasted for about two hours. Before that meeting, he said at a photo-op alongside the Russian president that the greatest threat to regional security and stability is Iran and its proxies.
Netanyahu said that Israel is determined to act against Iran and its proxies in Syria – as Putin listened expressionlessly.
Speaking in Hebrew with his words translated into Russian, Netanyahu began his comments by inviting Putin to the inauguration of a memorial in Jerusalem commemorating the victims of the World War II siege of Leningrad.
Netanyahu said that Israel will never forget the role Russia played in the fight against the Nazis. Putin, who immediately responded that he will come to the ceremony, said it was very important for his country that the memory of the victims of World War II be remembered.
Netanyahu noted that this was his 11th meeting with Putin since Russia became engaged in Syria militarily in September 2015, and that their relationship is a “brick” preventing friction between the two armies and contributing to security in the region.
These comments came prior to a meeting between the two leaders and their staffs. Afterward, in a gesture that Netanyahu interpreted as a sign of the warmth of the ties, Putin invited Sara Netanyahu into the room and gave her a bouquet of flowers.
In his comments, Netanyahu noted the rise of tourism both from Russia to Israel and from Israel to Russia, saying that 400,000 Russians visited Israel last year, and 200,000 Israelis visited Russia. Netanyahu also paid tribute to the more than a million Russian-speaking immigrants now living in Israel, and to the contributions they have made across the board.
The prime minister thanked Putin for his friendship and the “straight, open and honest” nature of their relationship.
Netanyahu also met briefly in his hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, with leaders of the Russian Jewish community. He remembered the “Jews of Silence” of the Soviet Union and said that we are now living in a golden period of ties between Russia, the Jews and the Jewish state.
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