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Israel wants free hand against Iran, Netanyahu says in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (
September 14, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Israel must be given free rein to act against Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on September 12 as talks concluded in Sochi where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss security coordination in Syria.

His visit comes as an expected tight general election vote for Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, nears and as both sides work to avoid clashing in Syria, where Russia and Israel are engaged.

Israel has targeted Iranian elements in Syria with hundreds of strikes in a bid to prevent Tehran from establishing a permanent military presence there.

Both Russia and Iran, as well as Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hizballah have backed President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.

“Security coordination between us is always important, but it is especially important now, since in the past month there has been a serious increase in attempts by Iran to hit Israel from Syria and to place there precision missiles to use against us,” Netanyahu said.

The leaders spoke for close to three hours after which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said both Russia and Israel agreed to maintain dialogue regarding their militaries’ engagement in Syria.

After a separate meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Netanyahu said Israel’s military needed to have “freedom of action” against Iran in the region.

Regarding next week’s parliamentary elections in Israel, Putin said the Kremlin has an interest in who wins.

Putin noted that more than 1.5 million immigrants from former Soviet republics now live in Israel.

“We always considered them our people, compatriots. And, of course, we are not indifferent to what kind of people will come into the Israeli parliament,” Putin said.

The Israeli prime minister’s right-wing Likud party is heading toward a close race against rivals in the September 17 elections in which voters from the former Soviet Union play an important role.

Moscow this week also expressed concern over Netanyahu’s plan to annex part of the West Bank that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state, saying its implementation could escalate tensions in the region

Netanyahu was accompanied during his visit by Israeli national-security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Air Force chief Aviv Kochavi.

Last month, he met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv during the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to the former Soviet republic in two decades.