21 Sept 2015


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on a lightning visit to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russia’s new military presence in Syria • New satellite images show four Sukhoi fighter jets parked at airport near Latakia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed last Monday morning on a lightning visit to Moscow, where he was scheduled to hold a three-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before returning to Israel in the evening.

The focus of the meeting was expected to be Russia’s deployment of military forces in Syria.

Last week, an Israeli official said Netanyahu would present to Putin “the threats to Israel emanating from the increased flow of advanced weaponry to the Syrian arena and from the transfer of lethal weaponry to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.”

Netanyahu was expected to tell Putin that Israel will not accept any limits on its freedom to operate in Syria. In recent years, foreign media outlets have reported a number of Israeli airstrikes in Syria that were mean to prevent the transfer of weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

Israel wants to avoid any friction with Russian forces on the ground in Syria. If Russian soldiers were accidentally hit in any Israeli strikes in Syria, this could cause a crisis in the Israel-Russia relationship.

On the issue of Russia’s military presence in Syria, the Israeli government is in coordination with the American government. The U.S. is also engaged in a dialogue with Russia about its military presence in Syria.

Other officials taking part in the Netanyahu-Putin meeting will be IDF Chief  of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, head of the Military Intelligence Directorate. The participation of military officials in a diplomatic meeting between two heads of state is unusual. Their presence emphasizes the importance Israel places on avoiding a confrontation with Russian military forces in Syria.

Netanyahu’s entourage to Moscow also includes National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, Military Secretary Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano and the prime minister’s media adviser, Boaz Stembler. Unlike on most of the prime minister’s trips abroad, no journalists are accompanying him during the Moscow visit.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry has blocked a meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas, senior Palestinian and Israeli officials say.

During a meeting with four retired Israeli ambassadors in Paris last Monday, Haaretz reported, Abbas said that despite his willingness to meet with Netanyahu, “a third party who is not Israeli” had recently prevented the meeting.

Netanyahu has reportedly been sending Abbas messages for weeks about reviving the long-stalled peace process amid escalating Arab violence and Abbas’ threat to suspend key clauses of the Oslo Accords during his visit to the United Nations in New York.

During communications between the two, Abbas relayed that he would be interesting in attending a meeting with Netanyahu, but first wanted to consult with Kerry on the subject.

Israeli and Palestinian officials claim that Kerry asked the PA chairman to push off a meeting with Netanyahu for a few weeks until after the two met at the UN General Assembly.

Palestinian sources say Kerry blocked the meeting because he did not want it to take place without American involvement and his own personal mediation.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, proposed Kerry was still preoccupied with passing the Iran nuclear deal in US Congress and could not presently devote his time and energy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US sources dismissed the claims against Kerry, instead accusing the Palestinians of trying to place responsibility on Washington for Abbas’ ambivalence over meeting with Netanyahu.

“The secretary is interested in re-engaging on the issue [of peace],” a senior US official asserted. “He is talking to a full range of experts and stakeholders to better understand the options as part of our ongoing policy review.”

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