Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Moscow next week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, just five days before Putin is scheduled to meet in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump.The issues that will dominate Netanyahu’s talks with Putin – Iran and Syria – are also expected to be high on the list of topics to be discussed when the Russian and US leaders hold their first summit.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin comes just two months after the prime minister last flew to Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria, and comes amid growing concerns in Jerusalem about the situation in southwestern Syria, where Syrian President Bashar Assad, together with Russian air support and Iranian backed Shi’ite militias, are poised to regain control of the area.Netanyahu made clear Tuesday during a speech at the state memorial service for Theodor Herzl that Israel will strictly enforce the separation of forces agreement it has with Syria from 1974, and expects others to adhere to that agreement as well.At a speech an hour later at a US Embassy party in Airport City to celebrate July 4th, Netanyahu praised Trump for withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saying this was the “greatest thing for the security of the world and for the security of Israel.”But, Netanyahu said, “this is not yet universally accepted.”Netanyahu noted that the other world powers who were involved in the JCPOA – France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – are to meet on Friday in Vienna with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss “how to go around the decision that President Trump and the United States made to leave this bad deal, which is funding Iran’s terrorism and aggression with billions of dollars.”Netanyahu noted the irony that this meeting with Rouhani was taking place in the same week that Iran “dispatched a terror cell to carry out a major terrorist action in France.”The prime minister was referring to the arrest on Monday of an Iranian diplomat in Austria, and two other people, suspected of plotting a bomb attack at a meeting of an exiled opposition group in France attended by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.The arrests, Netanyahu noted, took place in France and Germany, two countries who will take part in the meeting with Rouhani in Vienna.“This Iranian terror plot was planned on the soil of Europe on the same week that the European leaders are supposed to meet the president of Iran about circumventing the sanctions on Iran. Here is my message to European leaders,” Netanyahu said, “stop funding the very regime that is sponsoring terrorism against you and so many others. Stop appeasing Iran.”Netanyahu said Israel very much appreciates the position Trump has taken on Iran, as well as the defense the US now provides Israel at the UN “day in, and day out,” and the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem after declaring the city Israel’s capital.“We have relations with a 160 countries, and some of these are terrific friends, but there is no friendship like the friendship between Israel and the United States of America,” he said.“America has no greater friend than Israel, and Israel has no greater friend than America.”Netanyahu called on the host of Tuesday’s celebration, US Ambassador David Friedman, to hold next year’s annual July 4th event in Jerusalem.Friedman opened up his brief comments by saying that “for the first time in its 242 year history, the United States of America is proud and grateful to receive happy birthday wishes from it’s embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel.”Friedman said last year’s event, which was held at the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya, took place during a time of unprecedented US gestures in favor of Israel, “which in turn led to great anticipation for the future. Would these hopes and expectations be actualized, would there be a concrete tangible advance in the United States-Israel relationship? It is now a year later, and I hope you all agree with me that the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’” He said economic ties between Israel and the US are at record levels, military and intelligence cooperation has never been “closer or better,” mutual diplomatic support is unprecedented, and there is now a cogent plan on how to “pressure Iran to end all its malign activity.”And, he added, “for millennia there seemed no means by which the most powerful nation on earth, whatever nation that may have been throughout history, would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. Today I go to work at the United States embassy in Jerusalem, Israel.”To loud applause, he praised Trump for continuing “to stand with Israel, courageously and with unwavering support.”
PM Netanyahu discusses Israel's right to defend itself after meeting with Putin, May 9, 2018 (GPO)