As the EU grumbles about settlements and the United States tries to pull out of the Middle East, Israel has been busy diversifying its foreign policy and trade portfolios. Prime Minister Netanyahu has looked to India and China, and Israeli diplomats have been openly cooperating on certain matters with Saudi Arabia. Perhaps most significant, however, has been Israel’s warming relations with President Putin and Russia. The AP:
Russia and Israel will expand their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.
Putin spoke after hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow for talks that focused on boosting bilateral ties and trying to resolve the situation in Syria.
“We talked about the need to take joint efforts to confront international terrorism,” Putin said at a news conference. “We undoubtedly are allies in that area, and our countries have accumulated a significant experience in fighting extremism. We will strengthen contacts with Israeli colleagues in that sphere.”
Putin said they discussed the situation in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, where Russia has conducted an air campaign against those opposing the government. Moscow has coordinated its action with Israel to prevent any possible incidents between Russian and Israeli militaries.
It was Bibi’s fourth face-to-face meeting with Putin in the past year—three more than the Prime Minister had with President Obama during that period.
Netanyahu isn’t the only Middle Eastern leader pivoting to Russia. As Ambassador Dennis Ross observed in Politico in May, many Arab officials are finding Putin to be a more helpful partner than President Obama—this despite the U.S. still having far more military resources on the ground than anyone else. So perhaps Netanyahu’s overture to Moscow is simply a reflection of regional power dynamics. But it’s not the entire story.
It’s notable that on his latest trip, Netanyahu brought along Jerusalem Affairs Minister and Russian Jewish immigrant Ze’ev Elkin. Israelis from the former Soviet Union are becoming more prominent in Israeli politics and in the army, and while they don’t necessarily bring an affinity for Russia with them, many have a more Russian worldview. The most visible exemplar of this kind of sensibility is the recently-appointed hawkish and nationalist Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from the ex-Soviet world who speaks Russian and is said to have a close relationship with Putin. As Netanyahu builds ties with Moscow, the growing influence of Israel’s Russian Jews could be an important development to watch.