President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday evening arrived in Moscow ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he said will focus on the implications of Russia’s sudden military disengagement from the Syrian civil war.
In addition to addressing the ongoing UN peacemaking efforts, Rivlin told reporters, his meeting Wednesday with the Russian premier will center on “the day after” scenarios in Israel’s war-ravaged northern neighbor.
“We want Iran and Hezbollah not to emerge strengthened from this entire process,” he told reporters during the flight. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger to the entire world, but Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.
“There’s a need for coordination with Russia in the current situation we’re in,” Rivlin said.
A senior Israeli official said on Tuesday that while Israel understands Russia’s interests in the region, it has yet to fully account for Putin’s surprise partial pullout from Syria.
Israel has also been anxiously watching reports that Moscow is about to deliver sophisticated S-300 missile defense batteries to Tehran.
“It’s not a zero-sum game,” the official said. “The Russians also have interests similar to ours. They also don’t want to see a strong Iran exporting terror to Russia’s southern border. Russia also understands that it won’t be good if Hezbollah remains in Syria and gains a foothold there.”
On Monday, Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of the Russian military from Syria, a move he said he hoped would contribute to the success of a peace parley that began earlier that day.
Rivlin said the Russian air campaign had allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military to turn the tide of war and had helped create conditions for peace talks.
Last month, Rivlin canceled a presidential visit to Australia after receiving an unexpected invitation to Moscow for a working meeting with Putin and other key leaders.
Officials in Jerusalem said the decision to go to Moscow was made at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told Rivlin that meeting with Putin was diplomatically more pressing than his planned visit to Australia — which would have been the first Israeli presidential visit there in a decade.
The move ruffled feathers in Canberra, with a senior Australian official fuming that it was not acceptable behavior toward a friendly nation and an ally, the Ynet news site reported. Haaretz later reported that Rivlin talked by phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the visit may yet be rescheduled.
During Rivlin’s two-day trip to Russia, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries, the president will also meet with the local Jewish community and visit Russian and Jewish cultural sites.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.