Israel needs Russia, more than the latter needs the former in the Middle East.

PUTIN AND NETANYAHU AGENDA – 4 YEARS IN THE MAKING

 17.04.2019

Putin and Netanyahu Agenda - 4 Years In The Making

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Since September 2015, when Russia entered Syria to fight the terrorism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held regular meetings, mostly focused on the security situation in Syria, but also to further the two country’s bilateral economic and other relations.

Following is a complete list of all meetings between the two leaders. It should be noted that apart from a few meetings on the sidelines of international events, Netanyahu was the party that always travelled to Russia to meet Putin. The Russian leader has not visited Israel to meet the Israeli Prime Minister. In fact, Putin hasn’t visited Israel since 2015 at all.

The 1st meeting between the leaders, following Russia entering Syria happened on September 21st, 2015. It took place at the Embassy of Israel, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow, Russia.  It was a 1-Day visit.

The focus of the visit was the security situation after Russia joined the war in Syria. Netanyahu also accused Syria and Iran of funding Hezbollah and preparing the Golan Heights for 2nd front against Israel.

Putin, on his part, said that the Syrian army will not open a second front against Israel.

Following the meetingNetanyahu said that the conversation regarding Syria went well, and they agreed on a joint mechanism to avoid misunderstandings between Israeli and Russian forces.

A Second issue was about Israelis waiting for a pension for Russia. Regardless, the main point was avoiding any misunderstandings in Syria between the Russian Armed Forces and the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) while Israel attempts to fight Hezbollah and Iran.

The 2nd Meeting took place on November 30th, 2015 and it was on the sidelines of the Paris Summit on Climate Change:

Netanyahu said ‘coordination, de-confliction mechanism’ with Russia was successful, and that it prevented ‘unnecessary accidents.”

Netanyahu also spoke about the “big battle against militant Islam [and] the terrorism it spews forward.” Netanyahu expressed “hope that Israel and Russia can see eye to eye on all the strategic matters” and reassured Russia that “it’s within our powers to have very good coordination on the ground and in the air” to prevent accident.

“I’m very satisfied by the fact that our militaries have been very careful to coordinate with one another and will continue to do so. I think this is an indication of the openness and the success of the relationship between Israel and Russia,” the Israeli leader added.

There was really no comment by the Russian leader.

The 3rd meeting took place on April 21st, 2016 at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia and it was a 1-day visit by Netanyahu:

Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged opinions on current aspects of bilateral cooperation, including security, and key issues of the global and regional agendas such as prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and the situation in Syria. Netanyahu said that Israel was giving its best to prevent transfer of weapons to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria.

He reiterated that Golan Heights would remain part of Israel, regarding of international decisions.

A few days earlier Putin met with Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the Middle East peace process.

Following the meeting it was announced that the leaders agreed on a goal of strengthening security coordination between Russia and Israel so as to avoid mishaps. Arrangements were made for a military delegation from Israel to meet a Russian one with the inclusion of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

The defense official meeting was Important as a result of the meeting between Netanyahu and Putin because “freedom of action for the IDF and the air force in places that are important to us vis-à-vis our security, and I think that this was achieved,” as the Israeli PM said.

They spoke of pensions for Russians who migrated to Israel again and agreed to finally sign a decision on June 7th for 25th anniversary of Israel-Russia relations.

The 4th meeting between the Russian President and the Israeli Prime Minister came on June 6th and 7th, 2016 and commemorated 25 years of Russia and Israel relations. They met at the Kremlin, Moscow and the Bolshoy Theater as well:

The two leaders discussed current issues of bilateral cooperation, including the further strengthening of trade and economic cooperation as well as cultural and humanitarian ties. In addition, there was an exchange of views on regional issues, primarily in the context of the fight against international terrorism. Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu reviewed developments related to Syria, as well as the status and prospects of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

There were also supposed talks of a a free trade area between the Eurasian Economic Union and Israel that could boost our business relations. Netanyahu also said that Turkish-Israeli reconciliation is “closer than ever.” Putin also said that he’s positive that Turkish-Russian relations back then would also improve (as they in fact did).

The 5th meeting between them happened on March 9th, 2017, once again at the Kremlin, Moscow and was just for 1 day:

Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s “frequent visits reflect genuine friendship and a tightening of relations in economics, technology, tourism and culture, as well as the living bridge of the one million Russian speakers living in Israel.”

He also hailed the conclusion of the agreement on the pensions of Russian migrants living in Israel.

He also said that Russia made important contributions to fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda Sunni terrorists, but replacing them with “Shi’ite Islamic terrorists by Iran” would be an unwelcome result.

He reiterated that “Israel is a state today.” And it has an army and can defend itself from the Shi’ite.

Putin on his part said “I am very pleased to see that we have such close and trusting contact. We meet regularly in person, are regularly in contact by telephone, and work together at the ministry and agency level.”

They discussed the situation in the Middle East and combating terrorism.

The meeting took place 1 day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow and met with Putin to discuss the Middle East situation.

The 6th meeting took place on August 23rd, 2017 in the Kremlin, Moscow and was once again just a 1-day visit by Netanyahu:

Again, they discussed ways of improving bilateral relations and also exchanged views on the situation in the ME.

Putin said “Let me start today by saying that we are happy with the state of our bilateral relations, which have developed in part through your direct efforts, Mr Prime Minister.”

Netanyahu warned that “Iran is making tremendous efforts to bolster its presence in Syria. This is a threat for Israel, for the Middle East, and, I believe, for the entire world. Iran has also made serious advances in extending its control and influence in Iraq and Yemen. In many respects, it is Iran that exercises real control in Lebanon today.” Even alleging that Iran is the force exercising control in Lebanon.

“Mr President, we are fighting and defeating ISIS through common efforts, and this is very important. But what is worrying is that where we defeat ISIS and it disappears, Iran steps in.”

Netanyahu claimed that neither Russia nor Israel should forget that Iran threatens Israel constantly and it “arms terrorist organisations and encourages and initiates terrorism.”

Putin did not address Netanyahu’s remarks about Iran’s role in Syria nor his threat to take unilateral military action.

The 7th meeting happened on January 29th, 2018, in the Kremlin, Moscow and Netanyahu only visited for a single day:

According to the Kremlin’s statement “The leaders plan to discuss the development of Russian-Israeli cooperation in trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian areas and pressing international and regional issues, including a settlement in the Middle East and the situation in Syria.”

Before the meeting Netanyahu said that to defeat Nazism the way was to “to take a strong and timely stand against murderous ideologies.

“This is also our mission today and it is to this end that I want to speak with you, about our common efforts to promote security and stability in our region, and – of course – the cooperation between us, between Russia and Israel.”

Prior to leaving for Moscow Netanyahu said:

“We meet periodically in order to ensure the military coordination between the IDF and the Russian forces in Syria; as of today this has succeeded and it is important that it continue to succeed.

I will discuss with President Putin Iran’s relentless efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, which we strongly oppose and are also taking action against.

We will also discuss Iran’s effort to turn Lebanon into one giant missile site, a site for precision missiles against the State of Israel, which we will not tolerate.”

Following the meetingNetanyahu said that he “made it clear to him [Putin] that we will not agree to either one of these developments and will act according to need.” There were no remarks on behalf of Putin provided.

The 8th meeting between the two took place on May 9th, 2018 on the commemoration of Victory Day in Moscow:

Putin said that the meeting between the two leaders would be used to “discuss bilateral relations and problems in the region. Unfortunately, the situation is very acute. I would like to express hope that you and I will not only manage to discuss, but also find solutions which will lead to a shift in the situation, and which will also allow us to find ways to resolve heated conflicts.”

Netanyahu said before his trip to Moscow that “in light of what is currently happening in Syria, it is necessary to ensure continued coordination” between the Russian and Syria militaries. He made no mention of the airstrikes, and Tel Aviv has not commented. Russia and Israel have set up a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.

At the talks with Putin, Netanyahu used the opportunity to slam Iran for its anti-Israel policy:

“It’s hard to believe, but 73 years after the Holocaust, in our Middle East there is a country Iran that openly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. But there is a difference between what was then [during WW2] and what we have today. We have our own country today.”

The 9th meeting between Putin and Netanyahu happened in the Kremlin, Moscow on July 11th, 2018, the two leaders also saw a world cup football match:

Netanyahu said: “It is clear that our focus is on Syria and Iran. Our view that Iran needs to leave Syria is well-known; it is not new to you.”

Several hours before he spoke a Syrian UAV had penetrated Israel’s airspace. It was reportedly shot down and Israel “will continue to take strong action against any trickle [of fire] and any infiltration into Israel’s airspace or territory. We expect that everyone will respect this sovereignty and that Syria will strictly abide by the [1974] Separation of Forces Agreement.”

According to the Israeli PM, the cooperation between Israel and Russia was a central component in preventing a conflagration and deterioration of the issues in Syria and other situations. He also thanked Putin for the opportunity to discuss all of these topics.

Putin said that “In general, our bilateral relations are developing quite positively. I will not quote figures now but they are positive. This applies not only to our economic interaction but also to our political interaction. Good relations are developing between our defense departments. The same goes for the cultural and humanitarian sphere.” The Russian leader reiterated that all Israeli concerns were discussed in detail.

The 10th meeting between them happened in Paris, on the sidelines of Armistice Day in Paris on November 11th, 2018:

It is of significance since it was their first meeting since a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance plane was downed over Syria as a result of actions by the IDF’s air force on September 17th. 15 Russian servicemen died in the incident.

Putin said that it was a “tragic chain of events” and didn’t directly blame Israel.

After the November 11th meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that the “conversation was very good and to the point; I would say it was very important.” He refused to elaborate any further on the conversation. He refused to elaborate any further on the conversation. No other information was provided.

The 11th meeting happened on February 27th, 2019 in the Kremlin, Moscow and was, again, a one-day visit by Netanyahu:

Putin said that bilateral trade is increasing. It was not very large in absolute figures but the trends were positive. He also said that it was very important to discuss the situation in the Middle East as well as security issues.

Putin said that he would soon visit a special monument devoted to the victims of the siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem, after Netanyahu extended an invitation.

This was one of the meetings in which Putin spoke the most and focused on the importance of discussions with Israel. Probably because elections were nearing for Netanyahu.

Prior to leaving for Moscow, the Israeli PM said:

“We are leaving for a very important meeting with President Putin in Moscow. It is not correct that this is my first meeting with him since the Ilyushin plane was downed by Syrian forces because I met with him In Paris and we discussed that we would meet again, and we are doing just that.

The conversation will certainly deal with several issues, but from our point-of-view, the focus of the talks will be preventing Iran from entrenching in Syria, the entrenchment of a country which explicitly says that its goal is to wipe us out. You know that when I say we are acting against this, these are no empty words.

“Of course, I will go into details with President Putin as we do in order to ensure that the Russian military and the IDF coordinate in such a manner so as to prevent friction and clashes between us. This has succeeded up until now and it is important that it also succeed in the future. This is the main goal for which I am traveling to Moscow; there are other goals.”

At the meeting, Netanyahu provided the following remarks:

“The biggest threat to the region’s stability and security comes from Iran and its allies. We are doing everything we can to prevent this threat from being translated into reality. We will not allow Iran to do what it talks about, that is, to destroy us, and we will act accordingly.

I will be happy to discuss with you these issues and our wonderful bilateral relations.

“The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its proxies. We are determined to continue our aggressive activity against Iran, which calls for our destruction, and against its attempts to establish itself militarily in Syria.”

Their most recent and 12th meeting took place on April 4th, 2019, once again in the Kremlin, Moscow. It was probably organized to be as close as possible to the Israeli Election to show Netanyahu’s “close relationship” with both the US President and the Russian President. The meeting was also admittedly hastily organized on April 1st.

Taking part in the meeting on the Russian side were Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov, Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces Valery Gerasimovand Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev.

Putin said “I am happy to welcome you to Moscow. We met only recently, but the scale of our relations is so enormous that we need to meet frequently.”

On April 1st they spoke over the phone, discussing topical issues concerning bilateral cooperation, including military contacts, as well as the situation in the Middle East. The phone call was at Netanyahu’s initiative. Before departing from Israel, Netanyahu said he and Putin would “discuss events in Syria”, including the “special coordination between our militaries”. It was most likely a meeting to just showcase the relationship between Putin and Netanyahu and further seek to solidify his chances for re-election.

While both Israel and Russia are following their own agenda, and their official rhetoric reflects that, it is apparent that there is a working relationship between the sides. It could even be considered “friendly” in some fields.

In addition to meetings between Netanyahu and Putin, the Israeli PM also assumed the seats of Foreign Minister, Defense Minister and Health Minister.

Over the period since 2015, he has met several times with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and he also had a few meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

Even when the Israeli Defense Minister was Avigdor Lieberman up until late 2018, Netanyahu still had meetings with Shoigu.

It is without a doubt that Israel has its own agenda in Syria and the Middle East and it likely doesn’t correlate with the Russian one. Still, though, it is quite apparent that Russia takes into account Tel’Aviv’s interests in its policy and conduct in Syria. Israel, without a doubt also acts in Israel with Moscow’s reaction in mind.

The entire scope of the relationship between the two countries, at least when it comes to Middle East policy is rather unclear, since Netanyahu is the more vocal party and he continues accusing Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Putin on his part maintains that Israel’s concerns are being taken into account and that is about it.

It is also quite showing that Putin hasn’t visited Israel, whatsoever since September 2015. The Israeli leader is the one that visits Moscow every two months, thus the friendly relationship is also potentially one in which Tel’Aviv is the “needy” side, while Russia maintains the “strong” position.

Israel claims that it supported the defeat of terrorism and that Russia contributed to it, but the fact of the matter is that the actions of Russia and the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, and even Iran were the parties that did the “heavy lifting” against ISIS.

It is also unclear what portion of Israel’s requests are being fulfilled by Russia, since they continue being the same with every subsequent meeting. Without a doubt Russia undertakes action and contains the situation and without its assistance Israel would quite possibly be in a more precarious situation.

Russia, at least, formally condemned the recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, but it is no secret that it may further its own agenda, not in Syria, but in Crimea and getting recognition for the “annexation.”

The veiled relationship between Israel and Russia doesn’t appear to be as strong as the very public one between Tel’Aviv and Washington, but the scope remains unclear.

Netanyahu attempts to be vocal of it, since he is used to the very public Trump administration, but the Russian administration has an entirely different style of politics.

At a glance it also appears that Israel needs Russia, more than the latter needs the former in the Middle East.

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