Israel and Russia agreed to strengthen their regional military cooperation, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin met face-to-face in the Kremlin on Tuesday.
The two leaders agreed to tightened their cooperation in the fight against terrorism and stressed the importance of ending regional violence such as in Syria. They also reiterated the importance of Israel ending its short-term conflict with Turkey and its long-standing one with the Palestinians.
“We discussed the continued coordination between our two militaries in the region, which already works quite well,” Netanyahu told reporters at a joint press conference in the Kremlin with Putin after their meeting.
It is their fourth meeting in the last year, and their third in Moscow. Both countries have air forces that are reportedly operational around the Syria region, and tight coordination is needed to ensure de-confliction. “We want to avoid conflict and make sure we are operating against those same entities that endanger everyone,” Netanyahu said.
“We talked about the challenges to all civilized countries such as terrorism and radical Islam,” Netanyahu added.
According to an English translation of Putin’s words by the Tass News Agency, the Russian leader stated: “We spoke about the necessity to pool efforts to counter international terrorism. Israel knows only too well what it means and it is fighting against terrorism. In this sense, we are unconditional allies.”
The meetings are also a sign of the warming ties between Moscow and Jerusalem, as the two countries celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations.
“Israel’s doors are open to Russia and Russia’s doors are open to Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters earlier in the day.
He and Putin were photographed greeting each other warmly and shaking hands. There were no reports of the kind of tensions that have marked Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Although the US remains Israel’s chief military ally, it is not as active as Russia in the region and Netanyahu has had only one face-to-face meeting with Obama this year.
At their joint press conference Putin welcomed news that Israel and Turkey could be ready to re-establish full diplomatic ties after almost six years. He also spoke of the importance of creating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Russia, which is a member of the Quartet and also holds one of five permanent seats on the UN Security Council, is actively involved in attempts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have been frozen for over two years.
But all past peace processes have been led by the US. There is some speculation that Israel could be open to increased Russian involvement on the Palestinian track in addition to its work with the Quartet.
“We speak for overwhelming and just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Putin said. “Active joint efforts, including in the framework of the Middle East Quartet, are in demand now.
“Russia is ready to take part in that work,” he added according to Tass.
On Wednesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plans to meet with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki, who will also be visiting Moscow, just as Netanyahu gets ready to fly back to Jerusalem.
Regional conflicts, however, were not the only item on Netanyahu and Putin’s agenda. They also discussed increased energy cooperation, with Netanyahu assuring Putin that no legal limitations would be placed on Russian firms wanting to participate in Israeli energy projects.
But the two countries remain at odds over Moscow’s ties with Tehran including the shipment of sophisticated weaponry to Iran, a country which has pledged to annihilate the Jewish state. Israel is particularly concerned that Iran is gaining a foothold in Syria.
In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Netanyahu said, “We have made a point of staying out of the Syrian conflict, with two exceptions: treating wounded Syrians on a humanitarian basis and preventing Iran from using Syria to attack Israel or to transfer sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. We don‘t know what will come of Syria, but in any arrangement, it cannot be an Iranian base for terrorism and aggression.”
Earlier in the day Netanyahu laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Lone Soldier and helped inaugurate an exhibit at Moscow’s main Manege exhibition hall, “Open a Door to Israel,” on innovation and technology.
Among those presenting made-in Israel products is a settler delegation organized by the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria. Settlers have turned increasingly to Russia as an alternative friendly market for their products in response to the increasingly hostile climate toward them in Europe.
Netanyahu spoke in general of the warming Russian-Israeli ties at the exhibit.
“We are marking 25 years since the resumption of relations between us, and not only in culture and technology, but in so many other fields as well,” he said, as he referenced the role that Russian immigrants play as a bridge between the two countries.
“There is also a human bridge of over one million Russian-speakers who are our bone and our flesh, but who also come as goodwill ambassadors of a deep sympathy, Israeli citizens who emigrated from the former USSR. “Those who were born and raised in the country absorbed much Russian culture and music,” Netanyahu said . “There are bonds of sympathy and empathy between Israel and Russia, with a common past that has tragic chapters for both peoples, but also a very strong willingness to grasp and develop the future and move forward in creating a better future.”
When Putin first greeted Netanyahu he said, “We attach great importance to our contacts with Israel, not only because Israel is one of the key countries on the situation in the Middle East, but also due to historical relations between our countries,” Putin said.