After ‘historic’ Russia visit, Netanyahu says US remains top ally
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After ‘historic’ Russia visit, Netanyahu says US remains top ally

Stressing warm ties with Moscow, PM says there's 'no alternative' to Washington's friendship, but Jerusalem seeking other 'partnerships' as well

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 7, 2016. (AFP Photo/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 7, 2016. (AFP Photo/Pool/Maxim Shipenkov)

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed on Wednesday that he was not seeking to replace Washington as Israel’s closest ally, as he wrapped up his fourth visit to Moscow in a year, which had touted the increasingly warm ties between Israel and Russia.

“There is no alternative to the United States [and] I am not looking for one,” he told reporters as he boarded the plane after the two-day trip. “But my policy is to look for other partnerships with great powers such as China, India and Russia and other countries.”

He mentioned an upcoming trip to Africa as another example of this strategy. “Israel is opening up to the world,” he said.

While relations between Jerusalem and the White House have increasingly soured in recent years, and as echoes of Cold War tensions once again permeate Washington’s dialogue with Moscow, Netanyahu sought to present Israel’s ties with Russia as very positive.

He said his “historic” visit to Russia to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic ties was intended to strengthen the bond between the two countries — a relationship that he said went from enmity and confrontation to friendship and cooperation. This included military cooperation in Syria, he noted.

Diplomatic ties between the Russian Federation and the State of Israel were renewed in 1991, some 24 years after the Soviet Union severed them in the wake of the Six Day War.

Netanyahu said the positive relations between the nations was not only at the national level but on a personal one as well. He pointed to his and Putin’s joint attendance at a Bolshoi Theater performance Tuesday as further evidence of this. On Tuesday, Putin also gave Netanyahu a private tour of the Kremlin and explained the history of its halls.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife, Sara, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia, on June 7, 2016 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife, Sara, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia, on June 7, 2016 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Also Wednesday, the prime minister reiterated a denial by his office earlier that he had in any way endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative — unrevised — as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The initiative had not come up during his conversations with Putin at all, he said.

The PMO had rejected a claim by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday that Netanyahu had called the plan “‘universally acceptable.”

Like Netanyahu, Putin has described Tuesday’s meeting as warm and constructive and said the nations were “partners in the struggle against terrorism.”

The two leaders discussed a range of bilateral issues, chief among them the so-called deconfliction mechanism set in place last year to ensure Israeli and Russian aircraft do not clash over Syria. The two are also believed to have discussed Russia’s reported delivery of advanced weaponry to Iran, including the S-300 air defense systems.

A Russian air defense missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, August 27, 2013. (AP/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
A Russian air defense missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, August 27, 2013. (AP/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

Asked by reporters whether Israel and Russia disagreed on the matter, the premier would not acknowledge any tensions. He simply noted that Russia had pushed off the delivery of the missile defense system for many years and said that what was delivered earlier this year was only a partial installation. Israel fears the S-300 system could thwart any future Israeli strike on Iran.

“There is not one visit to Moscow in which I don’t bring up the topic to Putin,” Netanyahu said.

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