Why are Israel and Russia unlikely allies?

Israel and Russia: Why do Putin and Netanyahu meet so often?


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In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Once again. It was the fourth visit since autumn 2015. There were also many phone calls. Netanyahu only visited the US President once during this period. Why does he go to see Putin so often?

Israel and Russia are unlikely friends. The Russian government is helping the Syrian regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad and thus also the Hezbollah militia allied with him. Both are determined opponents of Israel. Last week, Israeli fighter planes fired at Hezbollah positions and transports in Syria. First Damascus protested, then Moscow. The Israeli ambassador was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Paradoxically, what brings Israel and Russia together on this and many other occasions is Iran - Israel's worst enemy, Russia's difficult friend. When Netanyahu was with Putin in March, Iranian marines were visiting their Russian colleagues on the Caspian Sea. In 2015, the Russians also fired cruise missiles at positions in Syria from the inland sea. These flew across Iranian territory, which is only possible with permission from Tehran.

Iran and Russia are working closely together in Syria. The Russians let their bombers fly; Militias under Iranian command recapture city after city from the rebels on the ground. The biggest prize was Aleppo last fall. Since the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, Russia has also been supplying more weapons to the Iranian army. The sale of modern Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles was particularly annoying for Israel. They can even be dangerous to Israeli high-tech jets.

So when Netanyahu goes to Moscow, Putin already knows his list of worries: Iran is getting too many weapons, Iran is occupying Syria and building military bases, Iran wants a port on the Mediterranean coast, Iran is arming Hezbollah against Israel. The Israelis are indeed feeling this. Hezbollah stands in Syria with several thousand fighters and is regularly approaching the Golan Heights held by Israel. Then Israeli fighter planes take off to bomb them.

At that point it becomes extremely dangerous and one begins to understand Netanyahu's madness about traveling to Moscow. He has signed a pact of silence with Putin: when Israel attacked Hezbollah, the Russians made no sound. When the Russians violated Israeli airspace in their war flights, the Israelis remained silent. There are only fifty kilometers between Damascus and the Israeli border. An incident in November 2015 shows what could happen. At that time, the Turks shot down a Russian fighter plane and triggered a lightning ice age between Ankara and Moscow. Netanyahu wants to avoid that. The Israeli and Russian military keep themselves regularly informed about their flights. Israel's government is also swallowing Russian arms shipments to Iran, but protests loudly as soon as the Europeans even consider delivering drills to Iran. Putin enjoys preferential treatment. And there are reasons.