Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday in Sochi, to discuss shared regional security issues – primarily Iran’s presence in Syria – and the status of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet states.
The one-day visit took place five days before Israel’s general election.According to JNS, the visit was an apparent effort to win support from supporters of political rival and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Netanyahu, who is also Defense Minister, declared : “I am happy to meet you again. The relations between Russia and Israel have never been closer. On the one hand this is natural. As you said, there are over one million Russian-speakers in Israel. They constitute a living bridge between our two countries.’’
Putin highlighted the 1.5 million former Soviet citizens who currently reside in Israel, saying “we always treated them as our people.”
During his visit, Netanyahu also met with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and their talks focused on the long-standing deconfliction mechanisms between Israeli and Russian aircraft over Syria.
The Israeli Prime Minister said that first issue of discussions was security, maintaining freedom of action for the IDF, including the air force, in the face of Iran’s attempts to militarily entrench in our region against us.’’
‘’We are operating constantly and it is important to prevent unnecessary collisions.,’’ he added.
Netanyahu told President Putin that Israel had seen an increase over the past month in Iranian efforts to attack Israel from Syria, as well as with its precision guided missile project.
“The security coordination between us is always important but it is especially important at this time because last month saw a very serious upsurge in the number of attempts by Iran to attack Israel from Syrian territory, and also to place precision missiles there against us,” said Netanyahu.
“From our point of view, this is an intolerable threat, and we are taking action; therefore, we must also ensure that the coordination between us prevents friction. We are indeed doing this and we will continue—I am certain—to do so in our conversation as well.”
Putin said that “largely thanks” to Israel, security cooperation between the two in Syria has become “a new quality.”
It was Netanyahu’s thirteenth meeting with Putin since 2015, with this visit widely viewed as an election gambit to showcase the Prime Minister’s international standing and personal relationship with the Russian leader, as well as to generate support among Russian-speaking voters in Israel.
Just prior to the initial Israeli election in April, Netanyahu also travelled to Russia for a meeting with Putin – where the remains of an Israeli soldier killed during the 1982 Lebanon War were transferred to Israel for repatriation.
A day earlier the Russian Foreign Ministry criticised Netanyahu’s declared intention to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan valley saying the move could “lead to a sharp escalation of tension in the region and undermine hopes for the establishment of a long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.”
The Russian leader said he plans to attend an event hosted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in January commemorating the Russians liberating Auschwitz 75 years ago.