The Russian connection: 7 things to know for July 12
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The Russian connection: 7 things to know for July 12

Netanyahu is in Russia making deals over Iran, though it's not quite clear what was agreed on other than having no beef with Syria's butcher

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

1. Moscow was the center of the world Wednesday night, with Croatia and England battling for a spot in the World Cup final and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battling with Putin to make sure Iran doesn’t have a spot in post-war Syria.

  • Israeli diplomatic sources on the trip to Moscow are indicating optimism regarding Israel’s desire to see Iran pushed away, though it’s unclear if they got to that more sanguine view by lowering expectations.
  • Haaretz quotes Israeli diplomatic sources saying that Russia is working toward pushing Iran away from the Golan, which is something that had been reported all along, and which Moscow itself has indicated it is doing. Israel, though, has made clear it doesn’t want Iran anywhere in Syria.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a diplomatic source saying that Russia is moving closer to Israel’s stance, though vague language used indicated that it may not support the total withdrawal Israel and Russia have come to loggerheads about.
  • “There is a realistic opportunity to cut out Iran’s legs in Syria,” the source is quoted saying. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky claim. Russia also doesn’t love Iran’s presence in Syria and it seems Assad believes the Iranians tricked him and are taking advantage of him to push their own interests.”

2. The meeting came just hours after Israel shot down a Syrian drone over the Sea of Galilee. Yet Israel appears to be taking pains to make clear that its issue is solely with Iran, and not with Russia or even Syria — likely as a nod toward keeping things hunky dory with Moscow.

  • “We won’t take action against the Assad regime,” Reuters reports Netanyahu told Putin at the meeting, citing an official.
  • Though Netanyahu’s spokesman denied such a thing was said (and Israel bombed Syrian positions overnight in response to the drone) by Thursday morning Netanyahu has gone public, telling reporters before leaving Moscow that Israel has no beef with the Syrian butcher.
  • “We haven’t had a problem with the Assad regime; for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights,” Haaretz reports Netanyahu told reporters on the trip.

3. ToI’s Raphael Ahren notes a mostly overlooked snub from Moscow directed at Netanyahu at the start of their meeting, when Putin denied that the visit was diplomatic in nature. Instead, Putin said, Netanyahu was in town to watch soccer.

  • “Putin appeared to contradict Netanyahu Wednesday when he welcomed the latter to Moscow on what he called a “private visit” by the Israeli premier to watch a soccer match — a trip repeatedly billed by Netanyahu as geared toward discussing Iran’s efforts to entrench itself in Syria,” Ahren reports.
  • It’s worth noting that Yedioth Ahronoth, which generally does not send reporters on diplomatic trips with Netanyahu, did send one this time, ostensibly so Nahum Barnea could combine a bit of reporting with attending a World Cup game (though his attempt at comparing the two mostly falls short.)
  • “The other game, the one in the Kremlin’s golden rooms, perhaps will not enter the pages of history, but one could say the players left happy,” he writes.

4. Israel Hayom quotes the commander of the unit manning the Patriot battery that shot down the drone saying that they acted “with no hesitation.”

  • Army spokesperson Jonathan Conricus himself contradicts the commander, saying that Israel did hesitate as it tried to figure out whom the drone belonged to, ToI reports, including calling the Russian hotline to ensure it wasn’t theirs.
  • “It is a dense airspace. Additional caution was needed,” Conricus says.
  • The army specifically feared the drone could have belonged to Russia, and shooting it down would have cast a serious shadow over the Netanyahu-Putin meeting just a couple of hours away, Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes, though he calls the gambit “risky.”
  • “Netanyahu would not want to land in Moscow to find that his first task was to explain to his host, President Vladimir Putin, why a Russian drone had been shot down. Israel now needs Russia badly, first and foremost to make good on its promise to keep Iranian forces and Shiite militias away from its border in the Golan Heights. When this is the top priority, Israel is willing to take certain risks,” he writes.

5. Netanyahu’s Putin meeting comes ahead of a summit between the Russian leader and US President Donald Trump, with many wary of what may happen when the NATO-skeptical and Kremlin-friendly US leader travels to Helsinki.

  • On Twitter, US Senator Lindsey Graham warns Israel against making a deal with Russia. Former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro agrees, but notes that Israel is just a small part of a larger plot being hatched by Trump.

6. While it can’t compete with soccer, diplomacy or even a woman possibly murdered by her ex-husband over a money dispute, the kidnapping of a 7-year-old boy from the front of his home in the Arab town of Kalansua is also major news — except in Israel Hayom, where it only gets a several-paragraph blob of space.

  • Yedioth reports that investigators think Karim Jumhour was being held somewhere in the West Bank over a money dispute and they believe he’ll be back soon.
  • “Inshallah, sometime during the day, the kidnapped boy will be returned to his family healthy and unharmed,” a city official tells the paper.
  • According to Channel 10 news, Jumhour’s family reached a deal with the captors for ransom money. However police still do not know where he is being held.

7. In Haaretz’s op-ed page, writer Uri Misgav goes on the attack against the family of Hadar Goldin, an IDF soldier whose remains are being held captive by Hamas.

  • Misgav writes that unlike the family of Gilad Shalit, which pushed for a swap deal, the Goldin family rejects that approach.
  • “One might describe their position as honorable, but there is nothing honorable about it,” he writes.
  • “Instead, the family is actual demanding to starve and choke the million and a half Gazans, until Hamas is pressured into getting down on its knees and returning the body of their son.”
  • The attack on Goldins is rare, and the last time they were criticized in such harsh terms, by Knesset members at a hearing on the Gaza War post-mortem, it became a huge political scandal.
  • For a primer on why bereaved parents are sacred cows in Israel that are normally seen as beyond reproach, and how that’s changing, one could do no better than reading this.
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