Netanyahu, Putin exchange New Year greetings

Leaders talk by telephone about Middle East developments; Russian president says he attaches ‘much significance to friendly relations with Israel’

St. Basil Cathedral, right, and Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, illuminated, as light balls are installed for New Year and Christmas celebrations in Zaryadye Park in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2020. (Pavel Golovkin/ AP)
St. Basil Cathedral, right, and Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, illuminated, as light balls are installed for New Year and Christmas celebrations in Zaryadye Park in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2020. (Pavel Golovkin/ AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Monday evening with Russian President Vladimir Putin to wish him and his people a happy new year and discuss regional developments, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The call came days after an airstrike on Russia’s ally Syria, attributed to Israel, that allegedly hit positions of Iran-backed militias, killing some of them.

Speaking by telephone to Putin, Netanyahu “conveyed holiday greetings to him and to the citizens of Russia on the occasion of Novy God, and wished him a good civil year,” the PMO said.

The two leaders discussed the situation in Syria as well as regional developments and ways to increase stability in the Middle East, it said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with a bouquet of flowers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)

Putin also sent an official letter to Netanyahu to mark the civil new year.

“Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on the upcoming New Year,” Putin wrote, according to an English translation of his message provided by the PMO. “We attach much significance to friendly relations with Israel. We look forward to extending our joint work next year to build up the entire range of bilateral ties, as well as interaction in addressing urgent issues of the regional and global agenda.

“This will surely meet the core interests of our peoples and comply with the security and stability needs in the Middle East,” Putin wrote. “I sincerely wish you and your loved ones good health, well-being and every success, just as peace and prosperity to all citizens of Israel.”

Earlier this month Israel rebuked Russia’s envoy to the country for supposedly saying the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab entities was the main cause of instability in the Middle East, rather than Iran.

Russia’s embassy claimed Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov’s comments had been taken out of context and distorted by the Jerusalem Post. The embassy said it had sent a letter of complaint to the Post’s editor and had held constructive dialog with Israeli officials on the matter.

On Friday, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported an air attack near the town of Masyaf, saying aircraft had fired missiles from Lebanese territory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-Syrian opposition organization, claimed the strikes hit positions of Iran-backed militias and killed at least six foreign paramilitaries. The claim could not be verified. The group has regularly been accused by Syrian war analysts of inflating casualty numbers, as well as inventing them wholesale.

Satellite images purporting to show damage to a weapons facility outside Masyaf, Syria, in December 25, 2020, airstrikes attributed to Israel, released by ImageSat International. (ImageSat International)

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions.

The last reported Israeli strikes in Syria took place a month ago, in the southern part of the country, near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights, and reportedly targeted sites associated with Iran and its proxies.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

Both Russia and Iran have been helping the Syrian regime bring an end to a civil war that has ground on since 2011.

Russia has maintained a deconfliction hotline with Israel, allowing the Jewish state to freely carry out the attacks as long as Moscow is informed beforehand.

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