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Israel Warns Russia That Iran's Presence In Syria Blocks Peace Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told Russian President Vladimir Putin there can never be peace in Syria as long Iran maintains troops and advisers there.

"We discussed at length the matter of Iran, its objectives and intentions in Syria, and I clarified that there cannot be a peace deal in Syria when Iran is there and declares its intention to destroy Israel," Netanyahu said in footage supplied by his office after the two leaders met in Moscow on March 9.

Netanyahu's office issued the video and clarifying statements hours after Putin during the Moscow meeting appeared to dismiss Israel's concerns as outdated, saying they stemmed from ancient Persia's hostility toward Israel "in the fifth century B.C.," a fact which Netanyahu himself had mentioned to support his contention that Iran still poses a threat.

"We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now," Putin said told Netanyahu, also apparently disregarding Netanyahu's earlier point that Iran has recently inscribed its ballistic missiles with messages about destroying Israel.

Iran is not only Israel's most vocal foe in the Middle East but also the staunchest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his six-year civil war against mostly Sunni rebel groups. Tehran has provided Assad with military advisers and fighters, many of whom have been killed during the war.

Iran-backed Hizballah fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite militia also have provided key support for Assad. Both Israel and the United States regard Hizballah as a "proxy" for Iran and a terrorist organization.

Iran "is arming itself and its forces against Israel, including from Syria territory and is, in fact, gaining a foothold to continue the fight against Israel," Netanyahu said.

"There cannot be peace when they continue the war and therefore they have to be removed."

Russia is also an ally of Syria and Iran and is seen as holding the balance of power in efforts to achieve a peace deal in Syria. The United Nations has been sponsoring peace negotiations in Geneva that are scheduled to resume later this month.

Israeli leaders and the Trump administration have maintained that Iran's presence in Syria during civil war that started in 2011 has increased its threat to Israel.

Last year, Avi Dichter, the chair of Israel's foreign affairs and defense committee, said Iran had tried several times to move forces into the Syrian Golan Heights, next to territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Dichter said Israel repelled those moves.

Netanyahu has said that Israel has also carried out dozens of strikes to prevent weapons smuggling to Hizballah via Syria.

Two years ago, Israel and Russia agreed to coordinate military actions over Syria in order to avoid accidentally trading fire, and Netanyahu has made several trips to Moscow to discuss issues in the region.

This was the first time he has publicly stated afterward that Iran's presence in Syria posed an obstacle to peace. It coincides with the United States raising the same issue for the first time at the United Nations this week, and came after Netanyahu said he had a long telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on the "dangers" Iran poses in the Middle East.

"I have just concluded an important meeting with President Putin where I made it clear regarding Syria that Israel has no objection to a new arrangement in Syria but we strongly object to the possibility that in such an arrangement Iran and its proxies will remain with a military presence in Syria," Netanyahu said, according to his office in Tel Aviv.

"I think that this was made clear in the best possible way. In my experience with President Putin, these things are not only important in order to prevent misunderstanding, but ultimately they also have an effect on the ground."

With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Reuters
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