Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, with the two discussing cooperation on combating the coronavirus pandemic and regional issues, a statement from the Kremlin said.
According to Netanyahu’s office, the conversation focused on Syria, where Israel has waged an air campaign against Iranian forces, with Moscow’s tacit approval.
“I spoke to [Putin] about Syria and about ensuring freedom of action for the air force. This is very important to Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
According to the Kremlin, the two “noted a mutual interest in continuing coordination in the Syrian sector, in order to counter international terrorism,” the statement said.
Russia has been the main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, but has also not interfered with Israel’s numerous airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in the country, as Jerusalem says it seeks to prevent Tehran from entrenching its forces along Israel’s northern border.
Russia however, has expressed interest in upgrading its ties with Tehran and is thought to be eyeing more lucrative weapons deals when a UN arms embargo expires in October.
Israel has campaigned vociferously for the arms embargo to be extended and for sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program to be reinstated, efforts that Russia has staunchly opposed.
Putin also told Netanyahu that he hoped the recent normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates would strengthen regional stability and security, the Kremlin said.
He also stressed that Russia continues to support “a just, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Palestinian problem.”
Putin and Netanyahu also discussed issues pertaining to trade and economy and their “intention to further develop cooperation in combating the spread of coronavirus infection, including clinical research and vaccine production.”
Russia recently announced it had developed the world’s first working, ready-for-use coronavirus vaccine. Scientists have expressed skepticism toward the claim and questioned the safety of the vaccine, as Moscow appears to have taken various shortcuts to get the vaccine ready months before any other global efforts.
Regardless, Israel has said it will examine the Russian vaccine and hold discussions with Moscow. “If we are convinced that it is a genuine product then we will try to enter into negotiations” to purchase it, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said.
The CEO of Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center later said the institution was involved in the development of the Russian vaccine.