Netanyahu Tells Putin: Iranian Missile Factories in Lebanon Are Already in Progress, We Won't Accept This Threat

Israel toughens rhetoric on Iran's missile plants in Lebanon, saying it will act if needed ■ Defense minister: 'Last thing I want is a third Lebanon war'

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking the International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018.
\ MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

Israeli officials stepped up the rhetoric on Iran on Monday, especially with regards to missile factories Jerusalem says Tehran is setting up in Lebanon. A string of statements by Israeli leaders on Monday have framed the factories as a red line for Israel, one that it is unable to ignore.

The topic was the focus of the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, where the two are reported to have held an in-depth discussion on the matter. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu said that Iran's precision missile factories in Lebanon were already "in progress" and that he had stressed to his Russian counterpart that it is a threat Israel was not willing to accept.

>>Iran resumes building missile plants in Lebanon, Israeli army warns in rare article in Arab media | Analysis

According to Netanyahu, the Russians "fully understand our position and the seriousness with which we view such threats." He added that Israel's ties with the Kremlin are important for security coordination between the countries: "The Russian army is on our border and we have managed to preserve our interests and freedom to act [by] coordinating expectations."

In Monday's meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, the prime minister presented Putin with the details of Iran's growing activity in the region, including its attempt to turn Lebanon into a missile manufacturing plant, and outlined Israel's strong opposition, an official said.

After the meeting, which included staff from both sides, the two leaders spoke alone for half an hour.

“We just now finished a few hours of excellent and deep discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” said Netanyahu. The two have a personal friendship and clear mutual interests between Russia and Israel in many areas, he said.

“The talks were very frank and direct, in the positive meaning of the word and encompassed a great number of matters. I spoke with Putin about the same issues that I spoke about concerning Syria and Lebanon with [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump, and these matters are related to Israel’s security,” said Netanyahu.

“I would divide it into two: This meeting occurred while there is a watershed change in Syria. Will Iran establish itself in Syria or will this process be stopped. If it is not halted on its own then we will act to stop it. We also spoke about Lebanon. I told [Putin] that the threat of precision weapons against Israel is a serious threat that we are not willing to accept and if we have to act, we will act,” he added.

When asked what scenarios came up in the meeting, Netanyahu said he did not think it was necessary to expand on what he had already said. “The situation in our region is complex and a potential and opportunity exists that Syria will stabilize and Lebanon will stabilize too, but it is also possible the opposite will happen.”

At the end of the briefing, Netanyahu was asked whether Putin repeated his offer to host him and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. Netanyahu said Putin did not and when he was asked whether the Palestinian issue arose in a different context, the telephone connection was disrupted and the call broke off.

Netanyahu was accompanied by Minister Zeev Elkin, a member of the security cabinet who is considered to have close ties with Russian officials, as well as National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and outgoing Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also touched on the topic Monday, saying that Iran was attempting "to tie a noose around the State of Israel."

According to the Yisrael Beiteinu party leader, "Israel knows where the Iranian missile project is located and who is involved in its establishment." However, while Israel is determined to prevent the development of an Iranian presence in the region, he said, "the last thing I wants is to enter a third Lebanon war." 

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also weighed in on the issue Monday, saying, "If Hezbollah and Iran continue to build missile factories on Lebanese soil, it will bring disaster upon the country and its residents."

According to the Habayit Hayehudi party leader, the building of factories that develop precision missiles in Lebanon by Iran is a "dangerous step," and one that Israel will not accept. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while speaking during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking 75th anniversary of the Sobibor uprising, Moscow, Jan. 29, 2018.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP