Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Tuesday with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov to discuss economic partnerships between the two countries, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The meeting came as Israel’s ties with Moscow have become strained over the downing of a Russian plane in Syria last month, and Russia’s recent delivery of its advanced S-300 air defense system to the Syrian regime. Israel and the US are concerned the delivery of the system could complicate ongoing Israeli efforts to prevent Iran from deepening its military presence in Syria and transferring weapons to Hezbollah.
Akimov arrived in Israel to participate in the 15th joint Russian-Israel intergovernmental committee of economic cooperation.
During a meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and Akimov discussed cooperation in the fields of medicine, science, innovation, construction, and agriculture, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Netanyahu stressed the importance of international relations and the continued dialogue on regional threats, while taking advantage of common interests, the statement said.
Russia’s delivery of the S-300 system to Syria follows the downing of a Russian spy aircraft by Syrian forces that were responding to an Israeli strike over Syrian airspace.
The Russian spy plane was shot down on September 17, after Israeli fighter jets conducted an airstrike on a weapons facility in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, which Israel said was going to provide weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies. The Il-20 reconnaissance plane was shot down during a counterattack by Syrian air defenses and its 15 crew members were killed.
Israel blamed Syria for the downing of the aircraft, accusing the country’s air defenses of firing “indiscriminately” into the sky and continuing to do so long after the fighter jets returned to Israeli airspace.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin initially told reporters that the incident was due to a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” the Russian defense ministry later declared Israel to be at fault, accusing the Israeli pilots of using the spy plane as a cover for their attack and deliberately putting it in harm’s way — something the Israeli Air Force has repeatedly denied.
In response to the incident, Russia delivered a number of S-300 batteries to Syria — something it had agreed to do five years ago, but repeatedly postponed in accordance with Israel’s requests.
Israel and its allies for years have lobbied Russia not to give Syria and other regional players the S-300 system, arguing that it would limit Israel’s ability to neutralize threats, including by the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.
The S-300 system, considered one of the most advanced in the world, has a radius of some 200 kilometers, meaning a battery placed near Damascus would cover much of Israel.