Netanyahu, Putin speak ahead of visit by Rusian leader to Israel next month
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Netanyahu, Putin speak ahead of visit by Rusian leader to Israel next month

Talks focus on Iran and Syria; officials say PM also reiterates Israel’s request to free an Israeli-American woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges

Likud minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Septmber 12, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)
Likud minister Ze'ev Elkin (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Septmber 12, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about security issues in the Middle East and also about an Israeli-American woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.

Russian officials said the two confirmed that Putin would visit Israel next month.

Putin had been expected to join French President Emmanuel Macron in January at events to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem, in what is expected to be the largest-ever gathering focused on combating anti-Semitism.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the talks Friday focused on Iran, Syria, Israel’s security needs and the continued need for the deconfliction mechanisms in place to prevent military engagement between Israel and Russia in Syria.

Russia backs the government of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and has criticized previous Israeli airstrikes aimed at preventing an Iranian entrenchment near Israel’s northern border.

The IDF had said it coordinated its aerial campaign with Moscow through the deconfliction mechanism the two countries established in light of Russia’s significant military presence in Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from there.

Netanyahu spoke earlier in the week with US President Donald Trump and met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in talks that also focused on Iran.

An Israeli official also said that Netanyahu and Putin discussed Israel’s request for Russia to release Naama Issachar, 26, who was sentenced to seven-and-a-half-years in prison earlier this year for alleged drug smuggling.

Supporters call for the release of Naama Issachar, an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia for drug offenses, at a rally at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

She was arrested in April after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover in Moscow. Issachar was flying from India to Israel, and at no point was to exit the airport in Russia.

The conversation between the two leaders came on the same day that Foreign Minister Israel Katz met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Rome and also raised the issue of Issachar.

The phone call was the second in three weeks between the two leaders in which Netanyahu called on Putin to pardon her.

Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

Israeli officials reportedly believe Moscow was using Issachar, who also holds American citizenship, as leverage to ensure the return of Aleksey Burkov, an IT specialist who was extradited by Israel to the US, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges. Reports in the Hebrew media have indicated Israeli officials think Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence.

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