Washington (AFP) – Israel is not concerned by Russia’s military presence in neighboring Syria because Moscow is a “pragmatic actor” with whom deals can be struck, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to Washington on Friday.
“What is important to understand is that the Russians, they are very pragmatic players,” said Lieberman during a discussion on the alliance between Russia, Syria and Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“At the end of the day, they are reasonable guys, it’s possible to close deals with them and we understand what is their interest,” said Lieberman, a Russian-speaker who grew up in the Soviet Union.
“Their interest is very different from our interest but we respect their priorities,” he said. “We try to avoid direct frictions and tensions.”
The Russian military has an air base at Hmeimim, in the northwest of Syria and has maintained port facilities at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast in the west for several decades.
But Lieberman said the expanded Russian presence in Syria was “not our business. We try only to protect our own security interests.”
Lieberman was talking three days after the Israeli news site Ynet published an interview in which he threatened to attack Russian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries that could be delivered to the Syrian military and used to target Israeli aircraft.
In 2010, Moscow signed a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the delivery of S-300 batteries but Damascus has yet to take possession of the anti-aircraft systems, in large part due to Israeli pressure, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.
Even though Israel has insisted it will not get drawn into the Syrian civil war, it has carried out dozens of air strikes on regime positions and has targeted weapons convoys it says were coming from Iran and were destined for Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla organization that has frequently clashed with Israel.