President Reuven Rivlin with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, embarked on diplomatic missions in Europe on Tuesday with a clear message: Israel will continue to oppose all Iranian activity in the region.
On the first leg of his tri-state visit to Europe, Rivlin met on Tuesday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Rivlin is due to meet with his Austrian counterpart on Wednesday, and his French counterpart on Thursday.
Although Rivlin was primarily interested in discussing how to prevent Iran from further developing nuclear arms; the intensified activities of Hezbollah and the need to mobilize European support for Israel in relation to the International Criminal Court, which is deliberating on whether Israel should be tried for war crimes, the conversation also included diplomatic developments in the Middle East, the Palestinian elections and the pandemic.
Ashkenazi left for Moscow on Monday, just two days after his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met with a Hezbollah representative. The Russian foreign minister met with Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s bloc in the Lebanese parliament, Russian state media TASS reported this week.
In Germany, Steinmeier praised Israel’s vaccination campaign. Germany, he said, shares Israel’s concerns over the dangers posed by Iran and Hezbollah, and noted it was “imperative” for a two-state solution to be negotiated as soon as possible with the Palestinians. He did acknowledge however, that Israel was not to blame for the protracted delay in reaching a solution.
Rivlin called the Abraham Accords “a ray of hope” but noted that extremist forces – primarily Iran and Hezbollah – were attempting to derail them.
Kochavi spoke in Germany of “the fundamental difference between us and our enemies.” “While we do everything we can to prevent harming innocent civilians, our enemies do everything they can to harm our civilians, who are entirely innocent. We are in a new era of warfare, which is highly complex, and the ICC must adapt itself to the new reality. Your soldiers [Germany’s] could face the same problems in other parts of the world, and so your support now is very important to us.”
An Israeli diplomatic source said the Foreign Ministry views the timing of Lavrov and Raad’s meeting as coincidental, and not an intentional slight.
Ashkenazi plans to meet with Lavrov on Wednesday, and intends to ask him what was discussed in the meeting with the Hezbollah representative, the diplomatic source said.
The foreign ministers are also expected to discuss diplomatic and security issues, including Iran. Russia supports an American and Iranian return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Syria is also on the agenda, with Israel and Russia having an open line of communication about Israeli actions against Iranian proxies in Syria.
They will likely discuss Russian efforts to recover the bodies of Israelis missing in action in Syria since the first Lebanon war in 1982, and of masterspy Eli Cohen, hanged in Damascus in 1965.
In addition, Ashkenazi seeks to achieve Russian acceptance of Israeli “Green Passports,” for people who have been vaccinated against or have recovered from COVID-19. However,this may be diplomatically awkward as the Israeli Health Ministry does not accept the Russian COVID-19 vaccine.
The diplomatic source said Israel has proposed that Russians seeking to visit the country undergo a PCR or serological test to show they have antibodies against coronavirus before visiting, but they will not have to go into quarantine upon arrival.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the topics for the meeting with Ashkenazi will also include “counteracting attempts to revise the history and results of World War II.” Russia and other Eastern European countries, especially Poland, have been involved in diplomatic spats about their respective roles in World War II and the Holocaust.
Before his meeting with Lavrov, Ashkenazi is expected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.
Ashkenazi will also take part in an unveiling ceremony for a Holocaust Memorial at the Israeli Embassy in Moscow.