SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - 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 on Wednesday.
“Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is that where the defeated Islamic State group 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 organisations, 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 practise in control of Lebanon”.
Iran denies sponsoring terrorism.
Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu’s remarks about Iran’s role in Syria.
Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, its forces fighting what it deems Islamist terrorists. Russia is acting in partnership with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, Israel’s arch-foes.
In the past few months, Russia has been the main broker of de-escalation zones set up in Syria. Israel worries those zones will allow Iranian troops and Hezbollah forces to deploy in greater strength.
Moscow argues its big-power clout deters Iran or Hezbollah from opening a new front with Israel.
In comments published last 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.
Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Christian Lowe