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Israel has no intention of initiating war against any regional player in the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday during talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu was responding to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent prediction that Israel would launch military strikes against Iran either in the spring or summer of this year.

During his two-hour meeting with Netanyahu, Putin stressed that Russia would refrain from selling any arms to Syria and Iran that would tilt the strategic balance in the region.

"Israel is not planning any sort of war," Netanyahu said at a joint news conference with Putin. "It was the Iranians who began talks with Syria on this issue and they are using all sorts of manipulations."

"It would not surprise me if Iran's behavior is a direct result of the growing international debate at the UN Security Council on sanctions against Iran," the prime minister added.

Netanyahu and Putin devoted most of their discussions on Russian plans to sell S-300 surface-to-air missiles, as well as the sale of Russian arms to Syria. The prime minister said he told Putin of the need to apply strict economic sanctions against Iran, along with preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

"Russia well understands the problem of Iran arming itself [with nuclear weapons]," Netanyahu said. "There is a certain closing of the gaps in the way Russia and Israel view this issue."

Tensions in the region were further heightened yesterday as Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened that if Israel attacks Beirut in the future, Hezbollah will attack Tel Aviv.

"If you hit Rafik al-Hariri international airport in Beirut, we will hit Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv," Nasrallah told thousands of his followers at a ceremony marking the two-year anniversary of the death of Hezbollah's military leader Imad Mughniyeh.

"It is untrue that we are giving Israel an excuse to launch an aggression on Lebanon. Israel does not need an excuse, and if it needs an excuse it creates one," he said. "If Israel strikes Dahiyeh, we will strike Tel Aviv."

Defense officials in Israel linked the statements made yesterday by Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah as part of an orchestrated effort by Iran and its allies to propagate the impression that Jerusalem plans to attack within the coming months.

"The Iranians know that neither Israel, Syria or Hezbollah have an interest in any violence erupting along the northern border," a senior Israeli defense official said. "Yet they wish to heighten tensions in the north in light of the progress being made in leveling international sanctions against them."

"They are doing this to create a deterrent balance against the West and to deflect public attention from the nuclear program to more urgent problems, like a clash between Israel and Hezbollah," the official said.