(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Vladimir Putin that Iran is out to destroy his country, pressing his appeal for Russian help to keep Tehran from using Syria as a launching pad to attack the Jewish state.
Netanyahu opened the talks in the Kremlin on Wednesday amid rising tensions over the possible delivery of Russian S-300 air-defense missile systems to Syria. After attending a military parade in Moscow commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, the Israeli leader warned that seven decades after the Holocaust, “there is a country in the Middle East, Iran, which calls for the destruction of another 6 million Jews.”
The visit comes a day after a new strike targeting Iranian forces in Syria that the government in Damascus said was carried out by Israel. The risk of a direct clash between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic has been rising amid concerns in Israel about the growing threat from Iran’s military and allied militias’ presence on its doorstep.
Putin described the situation in the Middle East as “very tense,” telling Netanyahu that he’s hopeful “we manage to find a way to defuse” the conflicts.
Before he left for Moscow, the Israeli premier said that his talks with Putin were “especially” important. “In light of what is currently happening in Syria, it is necessary to ensure the continued coordination” between the militaries of Russia and Israel, he said.
Israeli missiles were fired late on Tuesday at a target outside the capital, Damascus, Syria’s state-run Sana news service said. The Israeli strike was aimed at an arms depot belonging to Hezbollah and the Iranians, according to the U.K.-based opposition monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 15 people were killed, including eight Iranians, it said.
Russia has alarmed Israel by raising the possibility of supplying advanced S-300 air-defense systems to Syria in the wake of strikes by the U.S., France and the U.K. last month in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack by regime forces. That could upset the balance of forces, making it harder for the Israelis to penetrate Syrian territory.
While the Russian side hasn’t yet decided whether to proceed with the S-300 delivery, it has every right to do so, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news service.
Russia understands the risks of a clash between Iran and Israel and “all its efforts are aimed at avoiding this worst-case outcome,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert based in Moscow.
If that is the case, Russia must get the Iranians “not to establish their forces in Syria, because otherwise Syria will not be stabilized, things will happen there, and it can harm the Russian interest in Syria,” former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Nagel, who has sat in previous meetings with Putin, told reporters in a conference call.
Israel has carried out at least 150 bombing raids in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, according to Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador in Moscow. Targets have included an air base used by the Iranian military as well as arms convoys bound for Hezbollah, the Iranian-armed Shiite group in Lebanon that’s repeatedly fought with Israel.
Israel’s government and the army have a strict policy of not acknowledging or commenting on military actions taken in the neighboring country.
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