Israel is determined to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria even at the price of a direct confrontation with the Islamic Republic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated on Sunday, three days before a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the issue.
Speaking at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said while all his meetings with Putin are important for Israel’s security and for the coordination between the IDF and Russian Army operating in Syria, this meeting is especially important “in light of Iran’s growing efforts to establish military bases in Syria against Israel.”
In recent months, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has transferred advanced weaponry that could be used both against Israel’s forward positions and the home front, Netanyahu said. This weaponry includes attack drones, ground-to-ground missiles and anti-aircraft systems that would threaten Israel Air Force aircraft.
Israeli media quoted IDF sources on Sunday as saying Iran has plans to fire missiles from Syria at Israeli army bases in the North in retaliation for the alleged Israeli strike on the Iranian T4 base in Syria last month that killed seven IRGC soldiers.
“We are determined to stop the Iranian aggression against us, even if it involves a struggle,” Netanyahu said. “It is better now than later. Nations that were unwilling to act in time against murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices later.”
As if to illustrate this point, Netanyahu is scheduled to join Putin on Wednesday, May 9, for the annual parade in Moscow marking Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. More than 20 million people from the Soviet Union died during World War II.
Last July, the Knesset declared May 9 a national holiday to be commemorated by special programs in the Knesset, the cabinet, schools and the IDF.
Diplomatic officials have said Israel’s recognition of the Red Army’s crucial role in defeating the Nazis has been an important part of the development of strong Israel-Russian ties, as Moscow feels its part in the defeat of the Nazis – and its sacrifice – has been badly downplayed by the West.
In 2012, Israel dedicated a monument in Netanya to the Red Army’s defeat of the Nazis, one of the only countries outside the former Soviet bloc to have done so. Putin came to the country for 24 hours in 2012 to take part in the dedication of that monument.
THE MEETING with Putin comes at a time of increased tensions in the North. These include reports that Israel has hit Iranian positions in Syria in recent weeks and that Moscow intends to supply Syria with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems that could restrict Israel’s freedom of action in Syrian skies.
Netanyahu said Israel reserves its right to freedom of action to defend itself. “We do not want an escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario,” he said.
Netanyahu is also expected to talk with Putin about the Iranian nuclear archive that Israel uncovered and about US President Donald Trump’s upcoming decision regarding whether to remain in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known informally as the Iranian nuclear deal.
At a briefing with foreign correspondents on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position that the deal needs to be “either fully fixed or fully nixed.”
The deal was based on a lie that Iran was not interested in weaponization, he said, adding that critics who claimed there was nothing new in the documents Israel unveiled last week simply have not seen the material.
“They’re going to see it now, because we’re passing it on to the main intelligence services in all the P5+1 [US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany], plus some others as well,” Netanyahu said.
“My point is very simple: If you don’t violate a dangerous deal, it doesn’t make it less dangerous,” he said. “And to those who say that this [Israel’s revelation of the Iranian nuclear archives] proves why you need the deal, I say that a deal that enables Iran to keep and hide all its nuclear weapons knowhow is a horrible deal. And the last thing you can say about it is that it blocks all of Iran’s paths to the bomb. In fact, it does the very opposite.”
Netanyahu’s trip to Russia will come a day after he is scheduled to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot Prime Minister Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia for their fourth summit since 2016.
That meeting will deal with a number of issues. First and foremost will be the feasibility of laying a pipeline for natural gas from Israel’s gas fields in the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Greece and then on to Italy and Western Europe, Netanyahu said.
A memorandum of understanding regarding the pipeline was signed in December.
While the alternative of exporting Israeli natural gas to Europe through Turkey would be cheaper than going through Cyprus and Greece, Jerusalem is reluctant to go that route because of the anti-Israel policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.