Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday afternoon, as the Israeli leader traveled to Russia to discuss security issues with the Russian president. In a statement before the meeting, Netanyahu said that Iran remained the greatest threat to Israel and the entire Middle East. Iran, Netanyahu said, was funding terrorist groups like Hezbollah that attacked Israel, but also other groups dedicated to overthrowing moderate Sunni Muslim governments.
That Iranian influence in the region is being enhanced by the ceasefire in Syria that preserves the rule of Bashar al-Assad, who has in recent days thanked Iran for its support of his regime. However, government officials said they did not expect Russia or the United States, which jointly instituted the ceasefire deal, to change any of its conditions. The meeting Wednesday, said the officials, was to keep the lines of communication between Israel and Russia open.
Support in the political establishment for the meeting crossed party lines. Netanyahu’s visit was “very important,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said. Israel needed to do whatever it could “to prevent a situation where Iran is permitted to stabilize its presence on our border. We can, and must, halt the Iranian engine. Iran is the number-one enemy of Israel, and has declared its goal the destruction of Israel.”
Labor Party chairman Avi Gabay said he wished Netanyahu success on the visit. “Unfortunately I am not optimistic,” he said. “The Iranians, and especially their Shiite commandos in Syria, are the true power-brokers in Syria, and not the Russian air force. Our strength is in our ability to warn off aggressors. As in the past, we must realize we cannot rely on other players.”
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who is said to be contemplating a campaign against Netanyahu in the next elections, said that “Iran’s efforts to extend a sphere of influence from Tehran to the Mediterranean is a danger to Israel’s security. It is good that Netanyahu is trying to prevent these unacceptable threats against Israel.”