by Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom Staff and Ariel Whitman
Leaving for U.N. General Assembly, Prime Minister Netanyahu says thanks to cooperation with Russia, Israel has had "great success" in curtailing Iran in Syria
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President
Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting at the Kremlin
in Moscow in July
Israel and Russia will continue to maintain the close defense and security coordination between their two militaries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday upon departing for New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
"I agreed with President Putin that IDF and Russian military working teams would meet soon. We will do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel," Netanyahu told the press at Ben-Gurion International Airport, commenting on his most recent conversation with the Russian leader.
Netanyahu said that for the past three years, Israel had been "very successful" in preventing the Iranian military from establishing a presence in Syria as well as its attempts to transfer "lethal weapons" to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"This is not to say that there haven't been exceptions, but all in all there has been a great success. We did all this with maximum and successful security coordination with the Russian military," Netanyahu said.
Touching on the Russian military aircraft that was shot down by errant Syrian fire over Latakia last week, killing 15 crew members and sparking a crisis between Moscow and Jerusalem, the prime minister said that he had spoken with Putin twice since the "tragic events."
"I expressed to him our deep regret over the loss of the crew of the Russian plane that was brought down by irresponsible Syrian anti-aircraft fire," he said.
"This morning [Tuesday] I convened the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet, which received a full update on the recent events. The cabinet ministers also share in the deep sorrow of the Russian families and the Russian people," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister emphasized that the government gave "full backing to the IDF in its actions to defend the state."
"We will continue to take action to prevent the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria," Netanyahu stressed.
In Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu asked cabinet members to refrain from public remarks about the diplomatic crisis with Russian over the downing of the aircraft.
The Prime Minister's Office reported that in his most recent conversation with Putin, Netanyahu told the Russian leader that he believed the IDF's conclusions about the incident, according to which Israel was not to blame, and said that the Syrian army – as well as Iran's destabilizing influence – were responsible for shooting down the Russian plane.
Netanyahu warned Putin that supplying advanced weapons systems such as the S-300 anti-aircraft defenses to Syria would only intensify tensions in the highly volatile region.
Meanwhile, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Tuesday that Syria receiving the advanced S-300 missile defense system from Russia would make Israel "think twice" before carrying out more strikes against targets in Syria.
Mekdad told China's Xinhua news agency that "Israel has gotten used to carrying out numerous strikes for various reasons, and from not on it will have to consider additional strikes."
The S-300 system has not yet been put to use in Syria. Mekdad said it would be utilized only if the country were attacked. When asked how Syria would respond if Israel kept up its attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syrian territory, Mekdad said, "Let the Israelis try, and we'll defend ourselves as we have done in the past. … Aggression in Syria is aggression against all the forces battling terrorism in Syria."
The Syrian regime characterizes most of the rebels fighting the Assad regime as "terrorists."
Despite Netanyahu's instructions to members of the Security Cabinet to keep quiet, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz discussed the incident on Tuesday. "The Israeli government has expressed its regret to the Russian government, and also laid out the details of an investigation into the incident conducted by the Israeli Air Force, which proves beyond any doubt that Israel had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with bringing down the Russian plane."
Katz insisted that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah – which he said were "working to turn Syria into a front line against the State of Israel" – were responsible for the loss of the aircraft.
Katz also said that Israel would "not allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria and pose a threat to Israel."
"If Iran wouldn't smuggle missiles and advanced weaponry into Syria, there would be no Shiite militias to threaten Israel, and if [Iran] wouldn't smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, Israel would have no reason to be in Syria and would stop its actions there. But if the Iranian destabilization does not stop, Israel will be forced to keep take any action necessary to defend its security," Katz said.
The minister also said that if Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah launched a campaign of violence against Israel, he would be attacked and Lebanon would pay a "very heavy price."
"We will not allow any threat to the Israeli home front or attacks on Israeli national infrastructure," he warned.
According to a report Tuesday by Hadashot evening news, while in New York, Netanyahu is expected to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and ask him to offer Russia some kind of diplomatic carrot to stop Russia from sending the S-300 missile system to Syria, which would allow Israel to maintain its airstrike activity across the border.
Social engagement company Spot.IM has analyzed online Russian media stories dealing with the incident in Syria over the past several days.
It said on Wednesday that some 92% of the posts in the comments sections in those stories called for a Russian military response that would target Israeli aircraft, including while flying in Israeli airspace.
According to Spot.IM CEO Nadav Shoval, "Russian propaganda is working – the Russian public has adopted the Kremlin's views." Shoval said that the analysis shows that the Russians are convinced that "Israel is lying."
Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom Staff and Ariel Whitman
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