Israel doesn’t want a fight with Russia, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in an interview published Thursday. “We always take Russian interests into account, and hope they take Israel’s security interests into account,” he said.
His comments follow several aerial attacks on Syria that have been ascribed to Israel, including an attack on the T4 airbase, which Russia claimed undermined Syria’s stability.
Relations between Israel and Russia took a tense turn recently because of the Russian plan to arm Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria with advanced anti-aircraft defense systems, despite Israeli objections.
“If the S-300 systems aren’t aimed at us, that’s one thing,” Lieberman said. “If they open fire on our aircraft, we certainly will respond.”
Last week Kommersant reported that top Russian officials said that if Israel attacked the S-300 system, it would have “catastrophic consequences.”
Lieberman also told the paper that Israel won’t be interfering with Syria’s internal affairs, but said that what cannot be tolerated is “Iran’s attempts to turn Syria into a forward position against Israel. Every attempt by Iran to establish itself in Syria will be frustrated. It would be very wise of Assad not to interfere.”
On Israeli-Russian relations, he said, “We aren’t looking for any conflicts in recent years. On the contrary, in recent years, we have had open, clear and transparent dialogue with Russia, when our views agree and even when they do not.”
The defense minister noted that there is a hot line between the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian forces in Syria.
The minister also noted Israel’s special relations with Russia going back decades, calling them “highly efficient and transparent.” Israel highly values its relationship with Russia, Lieberman said, noting that even when Israel’s closest allies exerted pressure, as in the case of sanctions against Russia (over the takeover of Crimea), “we did not join them.” Nor was Israel among the countries that recently expelled Russian diplomats (over the poisoning of a double agent and his daughter in London), he added.
Asked about information that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had presented on the Iranian nuclear program, Lieberman said the documents categorically prove that Iran not only enriched uranium but set out to develop nuclear weapons: “They simply froze the program in order to gain maximal benefit from the agreement, so later they can transition to making nuclear weapons.”
On Iran’s statements that it would like to destroy Israel, Lieberman said, “We expect a clear, categorical response from Russia to Iran’s statements and moves.”
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