Bennett: Putin is attentive to Israel’s security needs

Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Elkin explains the mysterious shopping bag present in photos from the meeting with the Russian president.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset Ze'ev Elkin meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 22, 2021 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/PMO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset Ze'ev Elkin meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 22, 2021
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/PMO)

Israel and Russia have reached good, stable agreements, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said ahead of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, hours after landing back in Israel from Sochi.

Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, and the prime minister said he found Putin to have “an attentive ear for Israel’s security needs.”

The leaders “talked about the situation in Syria, of course, since the Russians are our neighbors in the north to some extent.”

Israel regularly strikes Iranian targets in Syria, where the Russian Army has a major presence, in order to stop Iran and its proxies from establishing bases on Israel’s northern border or transferring weapons to Hezbollah.

“It’s important to manage the delicate and complex situation smoothly and without a hitch,” Bennett stated.

Bennett and Putin agreed in the meeting to continue the deconfliction mechanism between their air forces in Syria, Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who served as Bennett’s translator, said on Friday.

The prime minister said that he and Putin also “discussed Iran’s nuclear program, whose advanced situation raises everyone’s concerns.”

The meeting on Friday, which Bennett said “was very good and went very in-depth,” continued far longer than planned, causing the prime minister, who observes Shabbat, and his delegation to remain in Russia until Saturday night.

"Israel's foreign relations are in full swing," Bennett said. "This government is opening a lot of new doors for Israel in the world – and we are, of course, strengthening the existing and good relations with many countries.

"It's always heartening to see how much our country is valued and how much we have to contribute to the world," he said. 

Bennett mentioned his planned trip to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow next week, where he plans to meet with several leaders. 

The prime minister also thanked Elkin for his role in preparing for and during the meeting.

A source in the closed-door part of the cabinet meeting said that Bennett recounted to the ministers that, following a night flight in which he and Elkin didn’t sleep, and about three hours of the meeting with Putin, the prime minister made some remarks in Hebrew and then heard silence – Elkin didn’t translate him.

Bennett turned to Elkin, found that the minister had fallen asleep and elbowed him to wake him up. Putin laughed and quipped that, unlike Bennett, Elkin had not been an elite combat soldier.

Elkin – who had served in the same role for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings with Putin – proceeded to translate what Bennett had said into Russian, and was able to stay awake for the rest of the meeting.

The prime minister joked that Elkin is “the man with the bag,” because of video released from the meeting showing the three of them walking together, with Elkin carrying a white shopping bag. The footage sparked many jokes and comments on social media.

Asked about the bag on Channel 12's morning show, Elkin explained that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Putin did not want too many people in the room. As such, Elkin carried papers - including aerial photos - and gifts, instead of representatives from the Israeli Embassy in Russia, and they were brought to him in a paper bag, not a briefcase.

"What's most important is what was done with the secret report [in the bag] for the security of the citizens of Israel," Elkin said. "That is what interests me."

Elkin's wife Maria quipped on Facebook: "I promise - I'll buy him a decent bag, probably in Rami Levi."