Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrapped up his Moscow visit, during which he discussed a range of bilateral and international issues with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Rethinking Russia think tank has interviewed Tatyana Karasova, Head of Israel Department at RAS Institute for Oriental Studies, to learn more about the trip’s outcomes and prospects for the state-to-state relations.
RR: From your perspective, what was Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow aimed at? Should we pay assiduous attention to the context?
TK: On the one hand, it is Netanyahu’s first tour to Moscow after Trump’s electoral victory. On the other hand, it is the fourth time the Israeli Prime Minister has arrived in Russia over the last 18 months, which testifies to an unprecedented scale of bilateral interaction. The world is subject to constant change, with the Middle East, and especially Syria, capturing global attention. In this regard, one should point out that Netanyahu identified his trip’s objectives beforehand and focused on Israeli security-related issues. Actually, today’s security should be regarded as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. However, Israel’s traditional approach to national security implies the country’s opposition to the Shia Crescent (or Shiite Crescent).
RR: What items of the bilateral agenda would you consider most important?
TK: The agenda is shaped by potential changes in the Middle East balance of power. For instance, Donald Trump has put forward a proposal to revisit the Iran nuclear deal, with Israel seeking to prevent the future ascendancy of Iran. Moreover, Iran is considering increased military presence in Syria where it has already gained ground. Israel’s border security, especially along the border with Lebanon and Syria, was also high on the agenda. Mind the activities of Hezbollah, a quasi-state military, as well. Combined together, all these factors make the politician’s visit completely unsurprising.
RR: Does it imply that Netanyahu sees Russia as a key stakeholder in the Middle East peace process and believes its position should be reckoned with?
TK: Indeed, today there is a clear understanding that Russia is by no means a bystander in the Middle East. Its standpoint on the settlement issue is central to the process.
RR: Finally, what is your current assessment of the recent visit? What should be highlighted first and foremost?
TK: Tangible results will most likely become apparent at a later stage. As of now, we can say that Netanyahu’s visit came at a very sensitive moment. Russia and Iran have successfully coordinated their tactical steps and cooperated in Syria, which, I believe, has recently entered the phase of post-conflict settlement. Thus, Russia’s policy in the Middle East is part of a clever diplomatic game which bears fruit.
The talks also addressed the issue of countering international terrorism – the IS (prohibited in Russia) mostly – in the scope of the Israeli-Russian state-to-state relations, as well as globally. In this respect, Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow should be analyzed along with Netanуahu’s trip. However, I would like to stress that the visits should be examined together only from the point of view of international security and combating terrorism.
Finally, there is another fact worth mentioning. Israel seeks rapprochement with the moderate Sunni states in the region, which may give fresh impetus to the Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
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