Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday praised President Donald Trump’s “tough stand” against Iran after the US leader issued a stark warning to the Islamic republic.
Netanyahu’s remarks came hours before a meeting with top Russian officials on Iran and the situation in Syria, where Moscow-backed regime forces have been battering rebels in the south for more than a month.
“I would like to praise the tough stand expressed yesterday by President Trump and Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo against the aggression of the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
“Over the years, this regime has been spoiled by the major powers and it is good to see that the US is changing this unacceptable equation.”
Iran is Israel’s main enemy and Netanyahu has long pushed for a tougher stand against it by international powers. He has repeatedly lauded Trump’s hawkish rhetoric towards Tehran.
Trump used Twitter on Sunday to send out an all-caps salvo: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had warned Trump on Sunday not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars”.
Trump’s comments came after Pompeo, in a major address to the Iranian diaspora in California, said Washington was not afraid to sanction top-ranking leaders of the “nightmare” Iranian regime.
Netanyahu lobbied hard to have the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers cancelled, and Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in May.
All other parties to the deal — Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China — have sought to keep it in effect, saying it is working as intended by preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.
Netanyahu has also pledged to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war.
A series of strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
– Russian visit –
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Moscow’s military chief arrived in Israel later Monday for talks on Iran and the Syrian conflict.
Like Tehran, Moscow supports Assad in the war, but Netanyahu has held a series of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months on Syria and Iran.
Netanyahu said Putin recently requested the meeting with Lavrov and General Valery Gerasimov.
“I appreciated the words that were spoken by President Putin together with President Trump regarding the security of Israel during the recent summit,” Netanyahu said after the meeting, in remarks relayed by his office.
The Russian foreign ministry said the meeting also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “the goal of ending the anti-terrorist operation in southern Syria, and ensuring security along the Israeli border”.
On June 19, Syrian government forces launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces in the country’s south, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Regime forces have now regained control of most of the two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and Moscow-brokered surrender deals.
Israel is eager to obtain guarantees that Iranian forces and allied groups, such as Hezbollah, will be kept away from the Golan.
Separately on Sunday, Israel evacuated hundreds of White Helmets rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Western countries.
Jordan’s foreign ministry announced in a statement that the kingdom received 422 Syrian citizens, after earlier saying it had given permission for 800 to arrive.
Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.