Jun 14, 2023 - World

Scoop: Bibi says Israel protested Russia's cooperation with Iran

Netanyahu with Putin in 2019. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty

Netanyahu with Putin in 2019. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty

Israel told the Russian government it is highly concerned about its growing military cooperation with Iran in the war in Ukraine and the possibility it will provide Tehran with advanced weapon systems, Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers in a closed-door hearing on Tuesday, according to three lawmakers who attended the meeting.

Why it matters: Israel’s relations with Moscow have become a very sensitive issue since Russia's invasion began. Netanyahu’s comments to the lawmakers were a rare window into the Israeli-Russian dialogue.

The big picture: Since the Russian invasion, Israel has been under pressure from the U.S. and other Western countries to do more to support Ukraine, including with military assistance.

  • The previous Israeli government took a very careful approach to the war, hoping not to create tension with Russia and harm Israeli security interests in Syria.
  • Israel still refuses to give offensive weapon systems to Ukraine, but the growing Iranian military assistance to Russia has slowly pushed Israel to do more to help Kyiv.

Behind the scenes: During a hearing of the Knesset Foreign Relations and Security Committee on Tuesday, Netanyahu said there is a quiet dialogue with the Russian government, which includes an “open and frank” exchange of views, the lawmakers who attended the hearing said.

  • Netanyahu said there are complaints on both sides — the Russians have expressed concern about Israeli support to Ukraine and Israel is concerned by Moscow's cooperation with Iran. “We don’t know how the Russians are paying the Iranians for their military assistance," Netanyahu said, according to the lawmakers.
  • Netanyahu surprised many lawmakers in the room when he praised the policy of the previous government and stressed he will continue implementing it by giving humanitarian and political support to Ukraine but refraining from supplying it with weapons, the lawmakers who spoke to Axios said.
  • Netanyahu claimed that one of the reasons Israel rejected the requests to supply Ukraine with air and missile defense systems like the Iron Dome was due to concerns the sensitive technology could fall into Russian hands and then be given to Iran, which would be able to reverse engineer it and learn how to overcome it, the lawmakers said.
  • During the hearing, Netanyahu was asked why he hasn’t traveled to Kyiv to meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Several lawmakers said Netanyahu tried to joke his way out of the question, saying it’s complicated to take the train. "Biden took the train," one of the lawmakers told him, per the sources in the room.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister's Office and the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment.

What they're saying: Ron Dermer, Israel's minister for strategic affairs and Netanyahu’s closest adviser, told the American Jewish Committee conference in Tel Aviv on Monday that the military partnership between Russia and Iran could be dangerous for Israel.

  • “Our eyes are very much on it. It is not going to be a one-way street in the long term, and our concern is that Russia provides things to Iran to the point it threatens our security — this is something we look at day after day," Dermer said.
Go deeper