Israeli and Russian militaries are cooperating closely again following the downing of the Russian intelligence plane off the coast of Syria in September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog on Monday.
At the beginning of a meeting with Herzog in Moscow, Lavrov said that representatives of the IDF and Russian Army general staffs have met “several times,” that the meetings were “professional,” and that he hopes the cooperation will continue “in a way that does not endanger the lives of Russian soldiers, does not create problems for the efforts of the Syrian Arab Republic and us to fight terrorism, and in a way that ensures the security of Israel, which we believe is very important for an overall settlement.”
Herzog initiated the meeting with Lavrov during a recent meeting he had with Russia’s ambassador to Israel about this trip to Russia to look at the Jewish Agency operations there.
A spokesman for Herzog said that the meeting was not coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, and that he gave full backing to the prime minister’s policies in Gaza and in the North, as he does when he meets world statesmen.
Netanyahu and Herzog are believed to have a good working relationship.
Lavrov – who initiated the on camera photo-op with Herzog in what was interpreted as an attempt to signal that ties with Israel have returned to normal – said that Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Netanyahu spoke briefly on the phone recently, and “there’s the possibility of a meeting again.”
The two leaders spoke on the phone two weeks ago, and met last in November on the sidelines of a ceremony in Paris marking the centenary of the end of World War I.
It is Israel’s appreciation of the Red Army’s contribution to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, however, that Lavrov underlined in his statement with Herzog before the meeting.
After Herzog said that his father – former president Chaim Herzog who was a British soldier during World War II and who met Red Army troops in Germany upon liberation – had a great deal of respect for “the heroism and bravery of the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War.” Lavrov said that this respect for the Red Army’s contribution “is something we should cherish.”
He said Israel’s appreciation of the Red Army’s role is especially important “in light of intensified attempts to challenge the outcome of World War II, and to challenge the crimes committed. And we highly appreciate that Israel is very firm in not allowing this to happen.”
This was a reference to efforts in former Soviet dominated countries of eastern Europe – such as Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states – to tear down monuments to the Red Army in their countries and in their narratives of World War II to equate the crimes of the Communists to those of the Nazis.
Lavrov said he once against wanted to express “our appreciation for the decision by your parliament to declare May 9 as an official holiday in Israel.” May 9 is Victory in Europe Day, and the Knesset established it is an official holiday in 2017.
Diplomatic officials have said Israel’s recognition of the Red Army’s crucial role in defeating the Nazis has played an important role in the development of strong Israel-Russian ties, as Moscow feels its part in the defeat of the Nazis – and its sacrifice – has been badly downplayed by the West.
In 2012, Israel dedicated a monument in Netanya to the Red Army’s defeat of the Nazis, one of the only countries outside the former Soviet bloc to have done so.
Herzog told Lavrov that he welcomed progress in the Israeli-Russian dialogue, and that it would be “very important” for Netanyahu and Putin to meet once again to deal with specific strategic issues.
He said that Israel was “worried about the fact that there is a clear violation of the border between us and Lebanon by Hezbollah – I think the message has to be clear both to Iran and its agent Hezbollah, as well as to other agents of Iran in the region such as Hamas.”
Following this meeting with Lavrov, Herzog posted a tweet saying that he talked with the Russian diplomat about the justification for Israel’s actions on its northern borders, about the “strategic need” for diplomatic progress with the Palestinians, and that an arrangement in Gaza is not possible if Hamas carries out murderous attacks in Judea and Samaria.