Netanyahu Downplays Iran-U.S. Thaw en Route to Meet Putin Days Before Election

Netanyahu reiterated the importance of the Russia-Israel strategic alliance in the Middle East and their shared commitment to removing Iranian troops from Syria

A campaign poster of Netanyahu shaking hands with Vladimir Putin at the Likud headquarters, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2019.
\ NIR ELIAS/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed a potential U.S. policy change toward softening its stance on Iran upon boarding his flight to Moscow, where he is slated to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If the United States and President Trump will want to review their approach [toward Iran] I am sure they will do it using the same policy framework of pressure and various requirements [from Iran] as it was done previously," he said. "I conveyed all the necessary messages to Trump and his advisers," he added.

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Netanyahu, five days out from his bid for a fifth term, lamented that ill-advised American policy toward Iran ahead of Trump's election allowed Tehran to "build an empire around us." He claimed the trip was "very important" in this time of struggle for Israeli security against "attempts by Iran and its cancerous outgrowths to strike us."

"The Syrian arena is crucial. It is important for us to maintain the Israel Defense Forces' freedom of action against Iran, Hezbollah and other targets," he said. "The common goal we agree on, which is still far from being achieved, is the removal of Iranian forces from Syria," he said. 

Netanyahu said the trip to Russia was a routine visit in an apparent attempt to sweep aside claims it is part of a pre-election strategy to show him as a close associate of prominent world leaders. 

Netanyahu also reiterated comments he made earlier on Thursday on Israeli radio about a possible upcoming Israeli war in the Gaza strip.

"Hamas understand where they are headed, but can't stop. Because they can't, there will be no choice but to enter a war," he said, adding that Hamas is failing to enact its sovereignty in Gaza and control other groups, like Islamic Jihad, that have staged attacks on Israel.

Netanyahu was also asked to comment on Russia's condemnation of his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank on Tuesday. "What did you expect them to do?," he said.