Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
MOSCOW – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Moscow on Wednesday, wanting to talk about Iran in Syria; the journalists accompanying him were interested in hearing what he had to say about Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit; and Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to talk about the Mideast diplomatic process.
Each party with its own agenda.
Netanyahu has talked for weeks about the importance of this meeting with Putin for Israel’s security, and the necessity to prevent Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.
Early Wednesday morning, before boarding his Moscow-bound flight, Netanyahu repeated this well-worn message:
“From our point of view, the focus of the talks will be preventing Iran from entrenching in Syria, the entrenchment of a country which explicitly says that its goal is to wipe us out,” he said. “You know that when I say we are acting against this, these are no empty words.”
Netanyahu had two objectives in holding this meeting with Putin.
The first is a genuine desire to stress to Putin that Israel will not allow Iran to turn Syria into a base of action against Israel, as well as to share with him Israel’s general plan of action, so that the Russians will not be surprised when Israel acts.
The second objective of the meeting is to present himself as a statesman engaged in high-profile diplomacy, while his opponents at home are dealing with small-bore politics.
For the journalists accompanying Netanyahu, however, it is precisely that small-bore politics that is on the top of their agenda, rather than the ongoing saga in Syria. They are more interested in hearing Netanyahu’s reaction to his possible indictment by Mandelblit than listening to him again discuss the dangers of Iran in Syria.
When one reporter shouted a question to Netanyahu about his legal issues, he responded, “I intend to realize all of the goals for which I am leaving for Moscow, and we will return when they are achieved.”
In other words, don’t pester me with small-time politics when I’m dealing with high-stakes statesmanship.
Putin, meanwhile, has different interests altogether. He is walking a dangerous tightrope in Syria between the conflicting interests of Iran, Turkey and Israel, as well as his own strategic objective of keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
The Russian president is interested in carving out a role for Russia as the world’s great mediator, able to bridge some of the world’s most intractable problems.
In that regard, he invited all the Palestinian factions for talks in Moscow earlier this month. He also invited the Taliban and leaders of Afghani opposition parties to Moscow for negotiations, as well as the leaders of Iran and Turkey for talks.
Though none of those negotiations was wildly successful, his interest is to create a situation where Moscow becomes indispensable in solving international crises nobody else seems able to solve.
In this regard, he would like to get a seat around the table when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process – a place that Moscow has lost, as all eyes are currently on Washington as it prepares to release its long-awaited peace plan.
With Russia’s role in the region on the rise, what happens on the Israeli-Palestinian front is critical to Moscow’s interests in the region, and it wants to be involved. There is a possibility that Putin might eventually offer a package or trade-off to Netanyahu: helping Israel on Iran in Syria in exchange for some Russian standing in the diplomatic process.
Dueling agendas, therefore, were clearly on display Wednesday in Moscow.
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