PM's tour was 'secret trip to Russia'

Netanyahu reportedly leased private jet for visit; PMO won't comment, Kremlin denies knowledge.

Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Binyamin Netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The reason for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's mysterious 10-hour disappearance from the media radar on Monday was a clandestine trip to Russia, according to a report Wednesday by the Hebrew language daily Yediot Aharonot. Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu leased a private jet since he knew using an Israel Air Force jet would raise the suspicions of the Israeli media. For the purpose, his office used a plane of the company Merhav, a company owned by Israeli mogul Yossi Miman, one of the shareholders of Channel 10 and EMG, an Egyptian company supplying gas to the Israel Electric Company. Miman was not directly involved in leasing the jet, as this was done through a company he owns. The PMO and Merhav refused to divulge the cost of the flight. Israel Radio further reported that the plane took off from a terminal in Ben Gurion International Airport which is mostly out of use. The Prime Minister's Office would neither confirm nor deny whether Netanyahu visited Moscow. However, the Kremlin press service said Wednesday that "nothing is known" about reports of the visit. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, also said he had no information, the Interfax news agency reported. Throughout Monday, the PMO, when asked about Netanyahu's whereabouts, said only that he was on a tour. After hours of speculation, and numerous inquiring phone calls, the PMO finally released the following laconic statement Monday evening: "The Prime Minister's military attaché reports that the prime minister is visiting a security installation inside Israel." Netanyahu was accompanied to the installation by National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and the military attaché, Meir Kalifi, according to the statement. However, a trip by the prime minister to Russia may not be an impromptu decision, as there was already speculation during Netanyahu's tour of Europe two weeks ago that he would visit Russia ahead of the United Nations General Assembly meeting at the end of this month. Interestingly, almost exactly two years ago, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert paid a lightning visit to Moscow to meet with then-Russian president Vladimir Putin, a day after the Russian leader returned from a trip to Teheran in which he warned outside powers not to attack Iran and said there was no evidence it was developing nuclear arms. Back then, the PMO tried to disconnect Olmert's trip from Putin's statements in Iran, but it was clear from the snap manner in which the meeting at the Kremlin was organized and announced that the Iranian nuclear issue would dominate the discussion. A PMO statement was issued only one day ahead of the trip; the meeting was not open to the media, and was the first time in years that a prime minister has traveled for a one-day visit to a country other than Egypt, Jordan or Turkey.