A meeting of potentially great importance occurred between Vladimir Putin and Benyamin Netanyahu, together with the head of the IDF, the chief of military intelligence, and their Russian counterparts.
It came on the news of Russia providing substantial military assistance to the forces of Bashar al Assad, and the concern that Israeli and Russian forces may find themselves in direct confrontation.
Israel has sought to distance itself from the Syrian civil war. Yet it has attacked convoys transporting missiles or other sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, has counter-attacked after incidents originating from the Syrian side of the border on the Golan Heights, conducts air- and other surveillance over what is occurring in Syria.
Prior to the civil war, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility in the process of being constructed.
With respect to what may transpire with Russia, Israel is both limited and enhanced by its priority relationship with the United States.
What's happening is part of a renewal of the Cold War. Israel does not want to be engaged in a proxy-war between the US and Russia, such as occurred in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, with great disaster for those places.
Among Israel's assets are numerous people, some of whom have reached high position in government, with intimate knowledge of Russian language, culture, and politics. There is also an assessment of Vladimir Putin and those surrounding him that exceeds by some measure the assessment of Barack Obama and those surrounding him. The Russians have long experience with the Muslims of Central Asia, and this has sharpened their sense of how to deal with the Middle East.
There is a realpolitik associated with Russian actions that Israelis can understand, to some extent appreciate, but not join. Here we are limited both by a stronger association with the United States, and cultural values closer to those of Americans than to Russians. Jews see themselves as the source of the prophets' values that came to be expressed by Jesus, with later versions written into the norms of the US and other Western democracies, but skipped over by Russians past and present.
The current situation is not enviable for any of us. However, Israel, hopefully with the cooperation of Russia, is maneuvering to prevent even the first elements of friction that might escalate to confrontation and the shedding of Russian and Israeli blood.
Russians and others are sensitive to the capacity of Israel that far surpasses what existed in other locales that became the turf for wars between the clients of the USSR and US.
Israel and Russia may already be sharing some intelligence about what is happening in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Neither are anxious for the enhancement of the Islamic State, or any other form of Islamic extremism. Russia can't be all that enthusiastic about its ties with Iran, given their own chronic problems in the Caucuses. Israel has not sided with Bashar al Assad, but may prefer a strong central government with a capacity to control much of Syria over the variety of militias, each pursuing its own goals. It's also likely that Syria's anti-Israel rhetoric is more concerned with firming up domestic support than seeking to involve itself in a major confrontation with Israel.
The announced result of the meeting in Moscow is the appointment of high level military personnel of both countries to work out procedures to avoid conflict.
Israeli personnel report that the Russian leadership is sensitive to Israel's concerns for security, including its opposition to advanced munitions going to Hezbollah. Yet there is little confidence that the Russian government will lessen or modify greatly its aims in Syria on account of Israel's needs.
It is possible that Russian speaking Israeli pilots or air force personnel will speak directly with their Russian counterparts while both are operating over Syria, for the purpose of avoiding one another.
Israelis are well aware of Russian power, as well as Russian concern to establish a presence in the Middle East and to make political and military statements against the United States. Russia has linkages with Iran and Syria that are stronger than anything offered those countries by the United States and its allies. Those linkages add to larger tensions, and should be seen in the context of Russian activity and Western waffling with respect to Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.
All express their opposition to the Islamic State and other varieties of non-state Islamic extremism, but one can suspect that some of the partners aren't all that enthusiastic about their ostensible cooperation.
Seeing this as a confrontation between Putin and Obama, the betting is that Putin is clearer, more focused, has narrower goals of Russian self-interest, and is more likely to get what he goes after than Obama.
It is shaping up to be yet another test of how the Jews--in this case Israelis--cope with great powers, now alongside Israel's border.
One cannot act effectively in the Middle East without a high tolerance for nuance and subtlety, along with force, something which may have so far escaped our closer friends in the US.
Also limited are those American Jews who cannot conceive of anything other than firm Israeli support of what the US government wants.
As in the case of Bibi's speech in Congress, Israeli officials will act in their own interests, and those of this country, when they see a matter more important than pleasing the US government or American Jews.
There may be friction with the US, as well as with Russia over what happens in Syria. At this point, there is little capacity to predict in one direction or another.
There is room to wiggle, given the tensions as well as cooperation in the context of imperial aspirations pursued by Russia and Iran, with historic issues of Christianity and Islam somewhere in the mix.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey are also players, each with histories having to do with Russia, the US, Iran, and Israel.
It's a time for testing, but not for simpletons.