Netanyahu plays up Iran threat in Russia

AFP – March 24, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday played up the global danger of Iran as he sought to persuade Russia to scale down its cooperation with Israel’s foes in the increasingly volatile region.

The Israeli leader held separate talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a day after a bus bombing killed a British woman and injured 39 people in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu went into the meetings vowing to show Israel’s “iron will” to those who attack his country and he underscored the risk of Islamic regimes rising to power amid the turbulence now wracking North Africa and the Middle East.

“There is a danger to Israel, Russia and the modern world that radical regimes, possibly radical Islamic regimes, will emerge that threaten us,” Netanyahu told Medvedev at his suburban Moscow residence.

“One regime is already doing so. That is Iran, which threatens to torpedo all attempts at peace and to return us all to the ninth century,” he said.

“We have an interest in stopping this evil and promoting good.”

Russia has been keen to repair its post-Soviet relations with Israel and was one of the first countries strongly to condemn Wednesday’s attack — the first such bombing in Jerusalem since September 2004.

Medvedev repeated his personal condolences on Thursday and said Russia faced many of the same problems after being hit by two devastating suicide bombings in a little more than a year.

“Our meeting today shows terrorists that they will not achieve their evil goals,” Medvedev said in comments that were echoed by Putin later in the day.

But the united front presented against attacks was unlikely to ease all tensions in a relationship that has been frustrated by Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran and continued arms sales to nations such as Syria.

One Israeli official said the controversial deliveries were “a central point of the journey” and that Moscow had expressed its “understanding of the Israeli position.”

Netanyahu mainly argued that ending these ties was in Russia’s self-interest.

“If the Tehran regime manages to create nuclear weapons, it will never fall,” he told Russian reporters.

“If this happens, no one – neither you (Russia) nor anyone else – will be safe from threats, blackmail and attacks,” Netanyahu added.

Russia remains a key supplier of arms to the Arab world and has recently confirmed its intention to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria – a country still technically at war with Israel.

Israeli officials fear the shipment will ultimately land in the hands of the Syrian-supported Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

Moscow officials had also hoped to use the talks to reassert Russia’s place in the Middle East peace process after ceding its role as a power broker in the post-Soviet era to the United States.

But the Jerusalem bombing appeared to shatter any hopes of the long-stalled talks resuming and Israeli officials said they were now investigating whether the Gaza-based Hamas movement was behind the attack.

Israeli officials said they would view confirmation of such a link as a real escalation of the current violence in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel is not interested in an escalation and if there is one it will be the work of Hamas,” said a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Several regional powers have already urged Israel to show restraint amid fears that Netanyahu would order another ground invasion of Gaza.

Netanyahu told reporters before boarding his flight for Moscow that those “trying to test our will and our determination … will discover that this government and the army and the Israeli people have an iron will to defend the country.”

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