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Netanyahu: Israel Ready to Take “Necessary” Steps to Protect Interests in Syria After Downing of Russian Aircraft

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed on Tuesday that “we will do whatever is necessary to protect Israel’s security,” following the downing of a Russian aircraft in Latakia, Syria, last week, The Times of Israel reported. The prime minister also urged Russia not to transfer the sophisticated S-300 missile defense system to Syria.

Speaking to reporters before boarding a flight to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would continue to fight Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria.

The prime minister confirmed that he spoke twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the incident and expressed his “sincere” condolences over the Russian servicemen, who died in the “tragic event.” He also said Israeli and Russian officials are slated to meet to address the growing rift between the two countries.

The Il-20 electronic intelligence plane was hit 35km off Syria’s Mediterranean coast as it returned to its nearby base on September 15. Russian officials have blamed Israel for the downing of the plane. The Israeli military, however, said that Syria’s indiscriminate air defense fire was the cause of the accident.

In the three years since Jerusalem and Moscow agreed to establish a so-called ‘de-confliction mechanism’ to avoid clashes over Syrian skies, the Jewish State has been “very successful” in curtailing Iran’s influence in Syria, Netanyahu said. The prime minister added: “That doesn’t mean there weren’t exceptions, but by and large it has been a great success.”

The security cabinet released a statement on Tuesday morning with a similar message.

“The security cabinet has instructed the IDF to continue to take action against attempts by Iran to establish a military presence in Syria while continuing the security coordination with Russia,” the statement read, echoing comments made by Israeli defense officials over the past week.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had announced on Monday that Moscow will soon upgrade Syria’s air defense following the downing of the Russian aircraft. However, officials in both Israel and the United States warned Russia against providing the Syrian military with the advanced surface-to-air missiles, saying the transfer would further destabilize the region.

“The prime minister said providing advanced weapons systems to irresponsible actors will magnify dangers in the region, and that Israel will continue to defend itself and its interests,” Netanyahu’s office said. Concurrently, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton stated Russia’s decision was a “major mistake” that would cause a “significant escalation” of tensions. Bolton urged Moscow to reconsider.

[Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO]