Iran's growing role in Syria poses a threat to Israel, the Middle East and the world, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday.
"Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating [Daesh], and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is that where the defeated [Daesh] vanishes, Iran is stepping in," Netanyahu told Putin during talks at Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.
"We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel," Netanyahu said. "It [Iran] arms terrorist organizations, it sponsors and initiates terror." Netanyahu also said that "Iran is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and to a large extent is already in practice in control of Lebanon".
Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu's remarks about Iran's role in Syria.
Along with Turkey and Iran, Russia has been one of the main brokers of de-escalation zones set up in Syria in recent weeks. Israel worries those zones will allow Damascus's Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements to deploy in greater strength along its northern front. Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad in 2015. Moscow argues its big-power clout deters Iran or Hezbollah from opening a new front with Israel.
In Syria, Iran has gained a strong position. The country has helped the Assad regime throughout the war, dispatching thousands of soldiers, mobilizing the Hezbollah group and delivering millions of dollars, despite its troubled economy due to international sanctions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier urged the United States and its allies in the region to establish a buffer zone on both the border between Syria and Israel and the border between Syria and Jordan, targeting Tehran's proxy, the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group, Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Over the last months, tensions between Lebanon and Israel have increased since the latter reckons that the Tehran-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah was gaining strength as Iran increased its influence in Syria and Lebanon. Israel unveiled the latest missile defense system called 'David's Sling' that designed to shoot down medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Israel has been targeting Iran-backed Shiite militia group Hezbollah and regime forces in Syria with concerns that Hezbollah might target Israel at any given moment with new weapons supplied by Iran and Russia. The country has mounted dozens of air raids to prevent weapons smuggling to Hezbollah, which is fighting rebels alongside the Syrian army. However, the interception of a missile making its way over the Syrian border was an uncommon incident.
In comments published this week, the chief of Israel's air force said Israel had struck suspected Hezbollah arms shipments in Syria around 100 times during the Syrian civil war, apparently without Russian interference and rarely drawing retaliation.