Russian president says he'll visit Israel in January

Meeting Putin after 3-hour wait, Netanyahu vows to stop Iran’s attacks on Israel

On pre-election trip with an eye on Russian-born voters, PM says Tehran’s presence in Syria is ‘intolerable threat,’ credits his ties with Putin for best Moscow-Jerusalem relations

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu, left, with Russian President Putin in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
PM Netanyahu, left, with Russian President Putin in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Iran has in recent weeks dramatically upped its aggression against Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday in Sochi.

Netanyahu traveled to the Black Sea resort town mainly to discuss military coordination between Moscow and Jerusalem and Israel’s efforts to prevent Tehran from entrenching itself in Syria. Russia is one of Damascus’s key allies.

“Security coordination between us is always important, but it is particularly important at this time because last month there has been a very sharp increase in the number of Iranian attempts to attack Israel from Syria, and also to place accurate missiles against us,” Netanyahu said.

“This is an intolerable threat, from our perspective, and we are acting [against it], and therefore we are also obligated to ensure that our coordination prevents friction. We’re indeed doing this, and will continue doing it, I am sure also in our conversation now.”

Netanyahu was referring to the so-called deconfliction mechanism between the Russian and Israeli armies that was instituted shortly after Putin decided to establish a military presence in Syria.

Thursday’s meeting, which began with a nearly three-hour delay, as Putin was in Dagestan to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the civil war there, was the 13th time the two leaders met since November 2015.

In his comments, the Israeli leader, who traveled to Russia less than a week before the September 17 Knesset elections, hailed bilateral relations, saying they have never been better. He cited two reasons: more than one million Russian-speakers live in Israel, building a “human bridge” between the two countries, and the “direct relationship” between himself and Putin.

Israeli voters hailing from the former Soviet Union are one of the key audiences Netanyahu’s Likud party is targeting during the current election campaign in an attempt to weaken one of his main political rivals, the Moldovan-born Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman.

Putin, speaking before the prime minister, in his remarks stressed his commitment to Israel’s security. He did not address the ostensible warmth of his personal relationship to Netanyahu, but made a comment many observers interpreted as a hint toward who he would like to win the Israeli elections.

“Russia cares a lot about who will be elected to the Knesset, and I hope that whoever enters the Knesset will continue bilateral ties between the countries and will push out relationship forward,” he said.

Furthermore, Putin announced that he plans to visit Israel in January 2020 to participate in a memorial commemorating the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, and also to attend the unveiling of a monument honoring Soviet soldiers who fought and fell in the siege of Leningrad.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on September 12, 2019, in Sochi, Russia. (GPO)

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, met the Kremlin’s defense chief, Sergei Shoigu.

“The first issue [we discussed] is security, and this is maintaining freedom of action for the IDF, including the air force, in the face of Iran’s attempts to militarily entrench in our region against us,” he said after the meeting.

“We are operating constantly and it is important to prevent unnecessary collisions. This is what we are doing in meetings such as these and also, of course, in the many telephone conversations between them.”

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