MOSCOW - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed here on a frigid Moscow morning for talks Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.He is scheduled to meet Putin in the early afternoon in the Kremlin. A planned meeting in the evening with leaders of the Jewish community was cancelled, and his departure back to Israel -- now scheduled for 9.30 pm.-- was moved up.
With a decision regarding indictments by Attorney -General Avichai Mandelblit expected soon, it is believed that Netanyahu wants to ensure he will be back to deal with the fallout.The prime minister, accompanied by his wife Sara, are scheduled to return to Israel early Thursday morning.Israel will continue to act against Iranian bases in Syria until its forces leave the country, Netanyahu said Tuesday evening before leaving for the diplomatic mission.Netanyahu said that he wants the talks to focus on Iranian entrenchment in Syria.Iran, Netanyahu said, threatens to destroy Israel, “and we will not give it a base near our border.”Netanyahu, who was scheduled to leave for Moscow at about midnight on Tuesday for a 24-hour trip, has characterized his meeting with Putin as “very important” for Israel’s security.Netanyahu told reporters it is critical to have collaboration between the Russian and Israeli armies to prevent accidental incidents between them and with Syria.Israeli officials said the meeting with Putin is important not only because it will afford Netanyahu the opportunity to update the Russian leader on Israel’s intentions in Syria, and how it plans to act against Iranian efforts to entrench themselves there, but also because of the perception of the visit.The meeting with Putin Wednesday in the Kremlin will be a sign that relations between the two countries are back on track following the downing of the Russian intelligence plane in Syria in September that Moscow indirectly blamed on Israel.While Netanyahu will want the meeting to focus on Iran’s efforts to entrench itself in Syria, the Russians – according to Israeli sources – have an interest in also discussing the Palestinian issue with Netanyahu.The Russians see themselves as well-positioned to mediate various conflicts around the world.This month, Moscow has already hosted a Palestinian delegation – including representatives from Hamas and Fatah – in an unsuccessful attempt at intra-Palestinian unity; the Iranian and Turkish leaders to search for a long-term political solution in Syria; and representatives of the Taliban and opposition Afghan leaders for talks.According to Israeli sources, Russia is also very interested in regaining a place around the table in the Middle East diplomatic process, something they are expected to raise with Netanyahu as US President Donald Trump is on the verge of rolling out his long-awaited peace plan.Israeli officials said the meeting with Putin is important not only because it will afford Netanyahu the opportunity to update the Russian leader on Israel’s intentions in Syria, and how it plans to act against Iranian efforts to entrench themselves there, but also because of the perception of the visit.The meeting with Putin Wednesday in the Kremlin will be a sign that relations between the two countries are back on track following the downing of the Russian intelligence plane in Syria in September that Moscow indirectly blamed on Israel.Less than three weeks after that incident in September, Netanyahu – eager to meet Putin as soon as possible to move past the incident – told the cabinet that he would be meeting with Putin “soon.” The Russians balked, however, and that meeting did not take place.In November, the two met briefly on the sidelines of events in Paris commemorating the end of World War I. This will be the first formal meeting between the two leaders since the plane incident, though they have spoken repeatedly on the phone.This will be the 11th meeting between the two since Russia became involved militarily in Syria in September 2015 to save the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. They met four times last year alone, and over the last four years, Netanyahu has met with Putin more than any other world leader.Netanyahu was originally scheduled to meet Putin last Thursday, but postponed that meeting to deal with political developments in Israel.Netanyahu will be accompanied to Moscow by Military Intelligence Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman, and Russian-speaking Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin who has long served as translator in talks between the two leaders.
Netanyahu lands in Moscow for meeting with Putin over Syria, February 27, 2019 (GPO)