Israel seeks peace but will defend itself against Iran: Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (R), and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot meet in Tel Aviv, Israel February 10, 2018 in this handout photo released by the Israel Defence Ministry. Israel Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday Israel sought peace but would continue to defend itself against Iran.

Earlier in the day, anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria in the most serious confrontations yet between Israel and Iranian-backed forces based across the border.

Netanyahu said he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I reiterated to him our obligation and right to defend ourselves against attacks from Syrian territory. We agreed coordination between our armies would continue,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement.

Netanyahu added that he had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Israel seeks peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves steadfastly against any attack against us or any attempt by Iran to establish itself against us in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Dale Hudson