Meeting in Moscow

It should be noted that Putin spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on Monday – at the prime minister’s request.

By
April 3, 2019 22:27
3 minute read.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meetin

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Moscow last month.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fly to Moscow today to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin raises some serious questions. Five days before the April 9 elections, is Netanyahu electioneering to show off his strong ties with the Russian leader, a week after his meeting with US President Donald Trump? Or is there something substantive to discuss?

More specifically, is there a crisis in military coordination on Syria that Netanyahu wants to resolve before the elections? Or maybe there’s a Russian connection to the dramatic news that was revealed Wednesday evening about the return of missing IDF soldier Zachary Baumel’s body from Lebanon, 37 years after he went missing.

It should be noted that Putin spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on Monday – at the prime minister’s request.

“We talked about the situation in Syria and the continued coordination between the IDF and the Russian Army,” Netanyahu said. “You know how important this relationship is for Israel.”

While the Prime Minister’s Office declined to elaborate on the reasons for the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that: “An agreement has been reached that on April 4, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will fly to Moscow for a brief working visit. On April 4, brief working talks will be held and the sides will synchronize their watches.”

It’s that last phrase that is most intriguing. Synchronize their watches before what?

Last week, according to foreign reports, Israel carried out an aerial attack against an Iranian arms depot in Syria, and it is clear that Iran has always been at the top of Netanyahu’s agenda.

He has sworn not to allow Iran to use Syria as a launching pad for attacks on Israel, especially through its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, which is a constant threat to northern Israel.

After his last meeting with Putin in February, Netanyahu told journalists that an Israeli-Russian task force had between established to ensure the removal of all foreign forces from Syria – including Iranian troops.

For his part, Putin might be concerned that there will be a Syrian backlash to Trump’s recent declaration that the US recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a move Russia has strongly opposed. He is also, according to Russian sources, interested in hosting a summit between Israel and the Palestinians to restart the stalled peace process.

A more cynical approach would be to look at Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow as a way of showing the Israeli electorate that he is the only candidate with such close ties to Putin and other world leaders. In fact, he has met Putin about a dozen times in three years, clocking up more Putin hours than any other world leader.

Whether or not Trump ultimately follows through on his pledge to withdraw American troops from Syria, Israel clearly relies on Putin as a trusted ally who is capable of reining in both Damascus and Tehran, if necessary.

In their last meeting on February 17, Netanyahu and Putin apparently resolved the tension caused by Syria’s downing of a Russian spy plane in September. Although the plane was shot down by Syrian air defenses aimed at an Israeli jet that was in turn targeting an Iranian installation, Moscow blamed Israel for using the Russian aircraft as a cover and not alerting it over the planned attack.
“The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its proxies,” Netanyahu told Putin. “We are determined to continue our aggressive activity against Iran – which calls for our destruction – and against its attempts to establish itself militarily in Syria.”

For his part, Putin pointedly did not mention Syria or Iran in his public statements to the media while meeting Netanyahu. “It is very important that we continue to cooperate. Russia was a supporter of the establishment of Israel,” he said. “We are happy to talk about the situation in the region and the security issue.”

So is Russia a campaign stop or an important strategic move by Netanyahu ahead of the elections – which could see him reelected or defeated? As is often the case, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

While we urge Netanyahu not to use this visit to score political points during what has become an acrimonious election campaign, we wish him every success in his meeting with Putin – especially if it involves curbing Iran’s increasingly threatening presence in Syria.


Related Content

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U
August 17, 2019
Confronting Democrats

By JPOST EDITORIAL

Cookie Settings