Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that Israel was prepared to act unilaterally to prevent an expanded Iranian military presence in Syria as Moscow works to end the civil war there.
Russia intervened on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, joining a de facto alliance with Iranian forces, Lebanese Hezbollah and other Shi’ite Muslim militias helping Damascus beat back Islamic State and other Sunni Muslim insurgent groups.
Israel worries that an eventual Assad victory could leave Iran with a permanent garrison in Syria, extending a threat already posed from neighboring Lebanon by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Meeting Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Netanyahu said Israel’s arch-foe Iran was fighting to cement an arc of influence from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.
“Iran is already well on its way to controlling Iraq, Yemen and to a large extent is already in practice in control of Lebanon,” Netanyahu told Putin.
Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu’s remarks about Iran’s role in Syria nor his veiled threat to take unilateral military action.