Israeli officials have asked Russia to help facilitate a humanitarian issue in Syria, according to multiple media reports, as the government held a brief emergency meeting on Tuesday evening, the contents of which have been withheld.
Ministers met after a week in which there was an unusual amount of communication between Israeli and Russian officials.
The level of secrecy was unusual high. Political disagreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which have prevented the holding of many government meetings recently, were cast aside in this instance due to the significant nature of the matter under discussion.
It’s unclear what type of humanitarian assistance Israel has sought from Russia in Syria. Russia-Israel talks about Syria have typically focused on the coordination of IDF aerial activity to root out Iranian military entrenchment.
Last week, Netanyahu, Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi all spoke with their Russian counterparts.
The Prime Minister’s Office last week issued a statement on Netanyahu’s conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“They discussed regional issues and the continued coordination between Israel and Russia regarding security developments in the region,” the PMO said.
Gantz spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. According to Gantz’ office they discussed “security challenges in the Middle East generally, and Syria in particular.”
His office added that “Gantz and Shoigu agreed to continue the dialogue between Russia and Israel to ensure troop safety, and affirmed the importance of taking steps to ease humanitarian conditions on the ground.”
Ashkenazi spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
In addition, in Moscow last week, Israel’s Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi met with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Col.-Gen. Alexander Fomin, according to Russia's Defense Ministry.
It said that the two had spoken of “Russia-Israel cooperation” and that they also discussed “key aspects of the situation in the Middle East.”
On Tuesday, Ben Zvi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. According to Russia's Foreign Ministry, the two men discussed "key regional problems with an emphasis on the prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement." Other issues on the bilateral agenda were also raised, the ministry said.
Simultaneously last week, the website of the English language Arabic paper, Asharq Al-Awsat, reported that the Russian military had searched for the remains of Israeli soldiers in a cemetery near a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus.
The article speculated that the Russian military searched for the remains of solders Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who have been missing since the 1982 battle of Sultan Yacoub, which took place in Lebanon, near the Syrian border.
One the eve of the April 2019 election, Russia helped Israel locate the remains of IDF Sgt. Zachary Baumel, who also went missing during that battle. His body was flown back to Israel and buried at Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl military cemetery.