By Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel—
Israel will prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria, and will continue to intervene to stop Iran arming Hezbollah and other Shiite militias there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on Thursday in Jerusalem.
Moscow is a staunch supporter of Basher Assad’s regime and has also maintained close ties with Iran. But in recent months the government of President Vladimir Putin has increased military cooperation with Jerusalem to prevent the Russian and Israeli militaries from clashing over Syrian skies.
“Israel, Russia, the United States and many other countries share the objective of defeating the Islamic State,” Netanyahu said standing next to Medvedev in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“At the same time, we are also concerned by the second actor promoting radical Islam — Iran — which champions the destruction of Israel and also supports 360-degree terror on five continents.”
Hence, Israel is determined to do two things, Netanyahu said: “First, prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons and second, to prevent Iran — in any situation that arises in Syria, with or without an agreement — from establishing itself militarily in Syria, on the ground, in the air or at sea. We are also determined to prevent it from bringing about the establishment of Shiite militias, which it is organizing, and of course, the arming of Hezbollah with dangerous weapons aimed at us.”
The prime minister thanked his Russian counterpart for the close security coordination — a so-called deconflicting mechanism — aimed at preventing clashes between Israeli and Russian fighter jets from clashing over Syria, as Israel routinely enters the country’s airspace to prevent hostile actors from smuggling arms or planning attacks.
“This, too, highlights the dramatic change in our bilateral relations,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also thanked Medvedev for agreeing to help return to Israel the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and three Israeli citizens currently held in Gaza.
Medvedev, too, hailed the improvement in bilateral relations, stressed the “special values” that Russians and Israelis have in common. “Every time I visit Israel I feel at home,” he said. “Our countries have common challenges, primarily terrorism. Terror threatens the entire world but in this region it is felt particularly strongly.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Russian prime minister, who last visited Israel in 1990 — long before he entered politics — met with President Reuven Rivlin.
“Russia has always had an important role in our region, perhaps today more than ever,” Rivlin told Medvedev. “We are faced by many challenges, and at the same time opportunities, and we need to be prepared for both.”
Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012, told Rivlin that Russia and Israel have a “close friendship and shared challenges which we must solve together.”
The Russian prime minister on Thursday also met with opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
Medvedev’s two-day trip to Israel is part of a series of bilateral exchanges to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Russian Federation. Both Netanyahu and Rivlin visited Moscow in 2016.
Medvedev arrived Wednesday evening and headed straight from the airport to Jerusalem’s Old City, where he visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
After his meetings Thursday with politicians, Medvedev was slated to visit the Volcani Institute Agriculture Center in Beit Dagan.
On Friday, he is scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial together with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, before heading to the Palestinian Authority.
In Jericho, he is slated to sign bilateral agreements with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and hold a joint press conference with his host, before the two leaders inaugurate a street named after the Russian prime minister.
On Friday evening, he will return to Moscow from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.