Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The interview took place ahead of 27 February visit of the head of the state of Israel in Moscow. Initially Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow was scheduled for 21 February, but was postponed due to parliamentary elections approach in Israel. As reported in the Kremlin, the leaders “discussed bilateral and international issues”. Netanyahu said earlier that he was going to discuss with Putin, including the situation in Syria. In Moscow and tel Aviv expect from these talks, what are the interests of Israel and the Visegrad group, but also affect whether the foreign policies of Netanyahu’s upcoming parliamentary elections, on air RFI Russian service, told the Israeli expert and a member of the Knesset Ksenia Svetlova.
RFI: What exactly he wants from this meeting Netanyahu?
Ksenia Svetlova: first, this is the first official meeting after the incident with the Russian aircraft Il-20 was shot down in September 2018 over Syria], and long enough she was not appointed. Therefore, it seems to me that the first aim of Netanyahu is to check how strong until now, his relationship with the Russian President, as it was previously. So it’s purely a question of personal relations. In Israel, many believe that relations with Russia today are kept largely on the personal relations between the two leaders.
As for Syria, the Prime Minister informed the Cabinet members that he intends to discuss, of course, the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has three red lines that were identified in the beginning of the Syrian war: is the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah through Syrian territory, construction and the creation of the Iranian military bases and military factories on the territory of Syria, and that the activities of Iranian and Pro-Iranian paramilitary groups on the border with Israel in southern Syria.
After the incident with the plane Israel several times acted against Iranian targets, including hangars with weapons at Damascus airport. But I received information that s-300 systems that were deployed in Syria a few months ago, ready for action. Israel wants now to understand that, once involved in the system s-300 as Israel is free to act against Iranian targets.
Just in time for last week Putin met with the presidents of Iran and Turkey to Sochi. In Israel reacted to these talks?
In this day when a meeting was held in Sochi, in Israel, more followed the summit in Warsaw, which was attended by the head of government. There also was discussed the subject of Iran and the leaders of the Arab and European States. But I certainly think that all those who follow middle Eastern theme, could not pay attention to what was happening in parallel.
And perhaps it is no coincidence that the Sochi summit was scheduled for the same day. I think this way the Russian President demonstrates that, in parallel with this anti-Iranian bloc, which is found in Warsaw, the person who really controls the situation in Syria, meeting with the leaders of other countries at the summit in Warsaw was not invited. And they are discussing other topics that are much more real and relate closely including Israeli security.
The fact that Russia has quite close relations with Iran and Turkey — for anybody not a secret. And in the entire spectrum of Syria, there are many issues that Israel does not concern you. But for Israeli security and Iranian activities in Syria — is another question, and I don’t know whether it was raised during the summit in Sochi. We know that Russia’s position remains unchanged. And foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said several times that Iran’s presence in Syria legally. After all, Iran was invited there by Bashar Assad. Russia thus makes it clear: “Iran continues to be in Syria, and we will try to do what we can, what we want to do in order to somehow limit or to reach a “gentleman’s agreement” in some respects”.
From my point of view, Russia, which maintains close and good relations with Iran and with Israel, will attempt, to the extent possible, to prevent the collision of these forces in Syria. But to be actively involved in Israel’s favor to remove or prevent the presence of Iranians in Syria is not in its interests, and this is not possible. We in Israel understand only one thing: our safety depends on ourselves.
If to speak not only about Russia, but in General about foreign policy activity of the Israeli Prime Minister. What is the significance of Netanyahu were and are not the summit of the Visegrad group?
For Netanyahu, of course, this summit was supposed to be riding his diplomatic efforts to create, say, new, almost no world order. It is an Alliance between the United States (President of Donald trump), Israel and countries of Eastern Europe, which are quite Pro-Israeli, Pro-American and are a separate unit within the EU.
In Israel, many regard the attempt to hold this summit in Israel is like [the desire] to point a finger, in a sense, in the eyes of Federica Mogherini. That is so anti-EU step, perhaps in order to undermine a little the position of the European Union. It is no secret that the Netanyahu government is set extremely critical towards the EU and the EU’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as the “Iran deal,” from which the EU never came. Therefore, at the Warsaw summit, which gladly accepted the participation of the Visegrad countries, and which is tacitly called anti-Iranian summit, there was the foreign Ministers of France, Britain, Germany, and Austria.
So for Netanyahu it was such a culmination, which did not take place. Not held for the simple reason that a new person came, an appointee of the same Netanyahu, Yisrael Katz, said aloud what in Israel think very many people, especially those who survived the catastrophe or their relatives, their children, their grandchildren, is that the attempt of Poland to rewrite history can not be regarded as a friendly act. A country that is trying to get closer to Israel, but at the same time rewrites history including the Jewish people, it may not be the best partner within the EU. This acute reaction that followed from Warsaw up to reduce the level of diplomatic relations, shows that this political Alliance, which tried to create Netanyahu, more like a house of cards than a solid building.
You mentioned mood in Israeli society. In April, Israel will hold parliamentary elections. Can there be some connection between the impending election and the foreign policy activity of Netanyahu?
During the election, of course, everything escalates, and each candidate trying to present a better view of their achievements and the efforts that were made to them recently. Netanyahu is now conducting a number of [international] meetings, which are designed to increase his prestige: the meeting with President Vladimir Putin, meeting with trump before the elections, the visit to Morocco, the visit in a number of countries. All this, of course, connected with the elections.
But overall, I can say that the work on strengthening of the relations with the Visegrad bloc is all lasted for the last four years, it has not started now for a few weeks or months before the election. It is the policy pursued by the Prime Minister, who really believes that the EU is a negative force that puts pressure on Israel, which expects some things are not feasible. As for the meeting with Putin, Netanyahu asked for this meeting long enough. I wouldn’t reduce everything to the fact that it is beneficial to him for the forthcoming elections, but, undoubtedly, it is its use this will be able to extract. I don’t doubt it.