September 9, 2009 / 12:23 PM / 10 years ago

Netanyahu secretly visited Russia: reports

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli media reports said on Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly visited Moscow on Monday in a bid to dissuade Russia from selling weapons to Iran.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a financial conference in Tel Aviv September 8, 2009. REUTERS/Oded Balilty/Pool

In Moscow, a spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied the reports.

A spokesman for Netanyahu said he had visited a security installation in Israel, reiterating a statement issued by his office on Monday amid media speculation about his whereabouts.

An unsourced report in Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, said the “security facility was actually Russia” and Netanyahu had discussed new arms deals being forged between the Kremlin and Iran.

Israel Radio reported after the Yedioth Ahronoth story appeared that Netanyahu, accompanied by his national security adviser and a military aide, boarded a chartered plane in a secluded area of Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport on Monday and flew to Russia, returning late at night.

The radio, which also gave no source for its information, said Netanyahu had visited a security installation in Israel before traveling to Moscow.

Media reports over the weekend, citing military sources in Israel and Russia, said a cargo ship that went missing in the Atlantic for almost a month had been carrying Russian air defense S-300 missiles to Iran that were detected by Israel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed those reports and said the circumstances of the Maltese-registered Arctic Sea’s disappearance would become clear in due course.

The ship was officially carrying timber from Finland to Algeria when it was boarded on July 24 by a group of eight men. They were charged with kidnapping and piracy after it was intercepted by Russian warships off Cape Verde.

The advanced anti-aircraft system have been a sore point in relations between Moscow and Israel, which has lobbied Russia to pull away from selling them to Iran, saying they could protect Iranian nuclear facilities against air strikes.

Assumed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal, Israel supports U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to deny Iran the means of making a nuclear bomb.

But Israel has hinted it could use force in a standoff that has often pitted Western powers against Russia.

Iran says it is enriching uranium to generate electricity.

Additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow, writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Philippa Fletcher

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