Netanyahu's Russia visit a distraction from domestic woes

YUSUF SELMAN İNANÇ @yusufsinanc
ISTANBUL
Published 01.03.2019 00:21

Barely a month ago, Israeli and Russian officials were accusing one another of being a threat to each other. While the Russians claimed Israel was escalating tensions in Syria and violating the regime's sovereignty through aerial strikes, Israel repeatedly alleged that the Iranian presence near the Golan Heights was its biggest national security threat.

Furthermore, the downing of a Russian jet by Israeli forces in September was a major cause for the dispute. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin indicates that the two countries have started direct talks on Syria.

Arriving in the Russian capital seemingly to convince Putin to bring an end to Iranian presence in Syria, Netanyahu said Israel would continue attacking Syrian territories as long as Iran and its proxies continue to play a major role in the conflict.

Ahead of his talks with Putin, Netanyahu said: "The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its proxies. We are determined to continue with our aggressive action against the efforts of Iran, which calls for our destruction, and against its attempt to entrench militarily in Syria."

Unsurprisingly, Iran was the only topic of the 11th meeting between the two leaders since September 2015, when Russia got directly involved in the war for the Bashar Assad regime. "The direct link between us is the [conflict-reduction] mechanism that prevented conflict between our armies and contributed to security and stability in the region," Netanyahu said.

Putin's words, however, were not as direct. He said that he regarded the cooperation with Israel as important.

Netanyahu's Moscow visit was not coincidentally timed either; elections are coming in Israel. Although Netanyahu seems to be the frontrunner, he is in trouble over a number of indictments and accusations of corruption. Under these circumstances, he would like to form unity among the right-wing parties. He had delayed his Russia trip to hold talks with certain Israeli politicians and eventually cut it short for the same reason.

Netanyahu is aware that regardless of ideology, any government would continue the current foreign policy that is based on an animosity against Iran and its proxies, particularly the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Therefore, he is also aware of the fact that Israeli voters are of the same opinion on this issue.

In other words, Netanyahu's foreign policy efforts are closely tied to the upcoming elections, especially at a time when he is accused of corruption. With just 40 days to go before the elections on April 9, the Netanyahu is facing some serious legal challenges and needs a way to distract the public.

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