Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting on Thursday.—AFP
Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting on Thursday.—AFP

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Israel on Thursday to focus on today’s “different world” after premier Benjamin Netanyahu evoked age-old tensions with Iran, ahead of a holiday marking an ancient victory.

In a meeting with Putin in Moscow, Netanyahu said Persia had made “an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed” some 2,500 years ago, an event commemorated through the holiday of Purim, which Israel will celebrate on Sunday and Monday. “Today there is an attempt by Persia’s heir, Iran, to destroy the state of the Jews,” Netanyahu said.

“They say this as clearly as possible and inscribe it on their ballistic missiles.” Adopting a more conciliatory tone, Putin said that the events described by Netanyahu had taken place “in the fifth century B.C.” “We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now,” Putin said.

Putin’s comment came after Netanyahu stressed that while Israel was capable of defending itself, the country — and the whole world — remained threatened by radical Shia Islam.

“The threat of radical Shia Islam threatens us no less than it does the region and the peace of the world, and I know that we are partners in the desire to prevent any kind of victory by radical Islam of any sort,” Netanyahu said.

Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has been implacable in its opposition to Israel and has provided extensive support to certain Palestinian militant groups.

Hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served as president from 2005 to 2013, famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, a comment that sparked an international outcry.

Iranian officials have said the call refers to the state not the people, and underline that the Islamic republic has its own Jewish community. Russia and Iran are allies and both back the Syrian regime in a conflict that has killed 310,000 people since it erupted in March 2011 with protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2017