The Russian government has confirmed that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has been invited to attend Russia’s forthcoming 9th May Victory Day Celebration as the guest of honour. He will also hold high level talks with the Russian government and with President Putin.
The Kremlin’s website has published a statement to that effect
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will make a working visit to Moscow on May 9. He has been invited to attend a military parade marking the 73rd anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.
Mr Netanyahu will also hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Israel for its part has confirmed that Netanyahu has accepted Russia’s invitation.
The 9th May Victory Day Celebration is not only a festive day in Russia. It is also a high point in Russia’s diplomatic calendar.
Foreign leaders who get invited to attend the Celebration are invariably persons in whom Russia takes a special interest, with an invitation being treated as a special honour.
Suffice to say that guests who have previously been invited to attend the Celebration include President Xi Jinping of China (who attended the crucially important 70th anniversary celebration in 2015), Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece (the latter caused serious offence by failing to turn up).
Russia’s invitation to the Israeli leader will come as a surprise to many people given the recent tensions between Russia and Israel over Syria and Iran.
In reality an invitation to Israel’s leader is an obvious gesture in a celebration of Russia’s Victory over Nazism, with Russia and the Jewish State having not only a shared history of suffering and struggle against Nazism, but also a commonality of interest in opposing Nazism’s recurring manifestations today.
Relations between Russia and Israel continue to be the subject of much misunderstanding. There continues for example to be a constant drumbeat of criticism against Russia because it is not “defending Syria” from any and every Israeli air strike, even though Russia has never said it would.
I have previously discussed all this at length, and have explained that so long as Israel does not cross Russia’s red lines by launching strikes against Syria which call into question the existence of the Syrian government or which interfere in the conduct of the Syrian army’s operations against the Jihadi terrorists the Syrian government is fighting, then Russia – which is not a party to the Arab-Israeli conflict or to the state of war between Israel and Syria which has existed since 1948 – will not involve itself in them.
All this was hammered out and agreed between Russia and Israel over the course of a summit meeting between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu and their respective military chiefs in Moscow on 21st September 2015, shortly after Russian military operations in Syria began.
Since then, though there have been occasional frictions, the agreement Putin and Netanyahu reached with each other on 21st September 2015 has held, and all the indications are that both the Russian and the Israeli leaders remain committed to it.
Russia and Israel also disagree about Iran, with Netanyahu seeing Iran as the greatest threat to Israel and determined to destroy the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed between Iran and the world community, whereas Russia is committed to improving its relations with Iran and wishes to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
On this subject the Russians and the Israelis have agreed to disagree.
In all other respects relations between Russia and Israel are excellent, and the governments of the two countries are determined that they should remain that way.
Israel is not a Russian ally – it is a US ally – but it follows a determinedly independent foreign policy and has no interest in making an enemy of Russia.
Russia for its part learnt its lesson after the 1967 Six Day War that there is no benefit to Russia from making an enemy of Israel. I have discussed this previously
When following the 1967 Six Days War the Russians did commit themselves wholeheartedly to one side in the Arab-Israeli conflict – backing the Arabs diplomatically, arming the Arabs intensively, sending a strong military force to defend Egypt in 1970 from Israeli air attacks, and breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel – the result for Moscow was a catastrophe.
The USSR’s large Jewish community became alienated, the USSR found that by making an enemy of Israel it had further poisoned its relations with the Western powers at precisely the time when it was seeking detente with them, and the USSR quickly discovered that its Arab ‘allies’ in whom it had invested so much were both ungrateful and treacherous, so that by 1980 the USSR’s entire position in the Middle East had completely collapsed.
The final straw came after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, when volunteers from across the Arab world rushed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, in a way that they had never shown the slightest indication of wanting to do against Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, the Russians have therefore since the mid-1980s been determined never to become directly involved in any part of the Arab-Israel conflict again.
Thus whilst Russia maintains good relations with the Arab states, and whilst Russia continues to voice support for the Palestinians, Russia has always striven to maintain good relations with Israel as well, and has forged significant economic links with Israel.
Recently there has been some discussion in the media about the possibility of Russia supplying S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria by way of response to the recent US missile strike on Syria.
Precisely because the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria has the potential to disrupt Russia’s otherwise excellent relations with Israel – and given that the US strike on Syria was completely ineffective – I personally doubt the supply of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria will take place.
However if it does take place then I expect the Russians to be at pains to assure the Israelis that Russia will maintain operation control over the S-300 in order to ensure that they are not used to threaten Israel’s air force or to affect its operations.
Since it has recently become clear that Syria’s air defence system depends on Russian radar data that should not be difficult to do.
Possibly this will be one of the subjects that Putin and Netanyahu plan to discuss with each other when Netanyahu comes to Moscow on 9th May 2018, though Netanyahu has made clear that for him the biggest issue he will raise with Putin is the extent of Iran’s presence in Syria
Meetings with the Russian president are always important for security of Israel and coordination between the Israeli and the Russian army. But next week’s talks are especially important in the light of Iran’s growing efforts to create military bases in Syria aimed against Israel.
We [Israel] are resolute to stop Iranian aggression against us, even if it necessitates battle action. It is better to do this sooner than later, as the countries that had demonstrated unwillingness to act against aggression targeting them, had to pay a much higher price later.
[Israel] does not seek escalation, but is ready for any development of the events…..over the recent months, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been redeploying to Syria advanced weapons, including ground-to-ground missiles and Iranian air defense weapons posing a threat to Israeli warplanes.
(bold italics added)
Perhaps the trade-off will be Israel’s agreement to the supply by Russia of S-300 anti aircraft systems to Syria in return for assurances by Russia that Russia will take steps (1) to ensure that these systems are not used against Israeli aircraft; and (2) that it will rein in the deployment of Iranian air defence systems in Syria which Netanyahu says are posing a threat to Israel’s aircraft.
As for the general state of relations between Russia and Israel, these were recently described in fulsome but nonetheless essentially accurate terms by Israel’s hawkish Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant
Israel reveres its relationship with Russia, which has flourished into efficient and transparent cooperation over the past couple of decades, even against the background of tough pressure from its closest partners, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Kommersant.
“For example, as far as the anti-Russia sanctions go, we flatly refused to join them. Many states expelled Russian diplomats not long ago, all due to the standoff regarding the use or non-use of nerve gas and so on. Israel did not join this action. We have a normal relationship with Russia and we comprehend its interests,” he said, adding that Tel Aviv also expects Moscow to “take into consideration our interests in the Middle East.”
Asked why the positions of Russia and Israel vary widely on such issues as the Syrian crisis, he said that Tel Aviv does not seek to pursue tensions with Russia. “On the contrary, we have established a very clear and frank, transparent dialogue with Russia over the past years, whenever we share opinions and even when we do not share opinions,” the minister said. “We do not interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. In my viewpoint, Assad is a war criminal responsible for killing over half a million of his own citizens. Assad, the Islamic State, Al Qaeda (outlawed in Russia – TASS), all radicals, Hezbollah are no different in essence. Nevertheless, we do not intend to interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. What we are not going to accept are any efforts taken by Iran to turn Syria into a foothold targeting us,” he added.
Lieberman acknowledged that Russian and Israeli actions are coordinated in Syria. “There is a phone hotline between Israel’s Defense Forces and the Russian contingent deployed in Syria. We always take into account Russia’s interests in Syria and hope very much that Russia will take into account Israel’s interests related to its security” he stressed.
According to the minister, Israel also bears no threat to Syria’s integrity. “There has been a murderous war for many years there, with at least half a million people dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, and I think the sooner it ends the sooner all of us could breathe easier,” he noted.
Lieberman is of course being utterly disingenuous when he says that Israel is not interfering in Syria’s internal affairs.
However his description of the state of Israel’s relations with Russia is accurate enough.