Netanyahu to Russian defense minister: Israel won't allow Iranian presence in Syria

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu is in Israel for the first time this week.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) stands with his Russian counterpart, SergeiShoigu, during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem yesterday. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) stands with his Russian counterpart, SergeiShoigu, during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem yesterday.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Israel will not allow a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday, a day after Israel destroyed an SA-5 anti-aircraft battery in Syria that fired on IAF planes over Lebanon.
Both Russia and Iran are key backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, most of the meeting dealt with Iranian efforts to set up a permanent military presence in Syria. “Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow that,” Netanyahu told Shoigu.
The Iranian nuclear deal and US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to decertify it were also discussed. Netanyahu repeated Israel’s position – if the deal is not changed, Iran will acquire a nuclear arsenal within eight to ten years.
Following Trump’s announcement last week, Russia said there was no place in international diplomacy for aggressive rhetoric, and that Trump’s effort was doomed to fail.
Russian media quoted Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin as saying after the meeting that the two leaders “expressed confidence that the meetings held on Israeli soil will give an additional impetus to the development of Russian-Israeli cooperation.”
Fomin also said they discussed their countries’ shared rejection of antisemitism, falsification of World War II history, and the belittling of the USSR’s decisive contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany.
Shoigu welcomed a law passed by the Knesset on July 27 officially declaring Victory in Europe Day on May 9 as 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 played an important role in 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.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is hosting the visit and met his Russian counterpart on Monday, also took part in the Netanyahu-Shoigu meeting, after visiting Yad Vashem with Shoigu beforehand.
During his meeting with Liberman on Monday night, Shoigu said the Russian operation in Syria was “nearing completion,” but stressed there were many issues that still needed to be addressed.
“I would like to talk about the situation in Syria. Our operation is going to be finished there and there are a few issues that require [an] urgent solution.
And prospects for further development of the state of affairs in Syria need to be discussed too,” he was quoted as saying by the Russian website Sputnik.
Moscow’s military intervened on behalf of Assad in September 2015. Since then, Israeli and Russian officials have met regularly at the highest levels to discuss the deconfliction mechanism set in place to ensure that Israeli and Russian forces do not accidentally clash over Syria.
Shoigu also said because of the current situation in the Middle East, he hoped his visit and the talks would help to “better understand each other” and contribute to strengthening ties between the armed forces of the two countries.
“As terrorist activities in the world have been increasing, the international community needs to stay united in the struggle against this evil,” he said.
Neither leader directly addressed Monday’s incident in Syria, though the IDF confirmed that the Russians were informed about the launch and retaliatory strike.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.