What Bennett wants from Putin

Naftali Bennett depart for meetings with Vladimir Putin and Olaf Scholz  credit: Prime Minister's Bureau

Justifying his semi-neutral stance on Ukraine is one of the prime minister's aims, but Syria and Iran are pressing issues for Israel, and Russia is key.

The surprise meeting in Moscow between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the man whom half the world sees as bearing sole responsibility for the war and the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine demonstrates, as far as Bennett is concerned, that the almost-neutral official stance that Israel has expressed on the conflict so far is justified.

Bennett is trying to show that the channel he has kept open with Moscow, in contrast to most of the Western world, has value, and that his dialogue with Putin is not just about matters of direct concern to Israel but is also about what is happening in Ukraine, and is an attempt to help with mediation efforts.

Bennett's announcement said that his trip to Moscow was coordinated with the US, and also with Germany and France (what about Britain?) and came "amid continued dialogue with Ukraine." In other words, it is not clear whether Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy knew of the meeting in advance. It took place after several telephone conversations between Bennett and the leaders of the countries mentioned, and on Thursday the conversations were fairly continuous. That is to say, they represented a real attempt by Bennett to mediate where, so far, the rest of the world has failed.

Syria and Iran also on the agenda

Ukraine, however, was not the only subject discussed at the Kremlin. Bennett went to Moscow to make sure that Israel's policy of sitting on the fence would achieve its main aim of maintaining the military cooperation with Russia against the Iranian forces in Syria, where Russia has effective control. And he obtained his wish - the coordination with Russia will continue, as will the attacks attributed to Israel on shipments of missiles and on the forces that Iran is deploying against it in Syria.

The other subject is more complicated - the nuclear agreement being formulated with Iran. Israel trails its continued disappointment with the West, with the US of Biden and Obama and with the other countries that promoted the agreement with Iran in 2015 and are now trying to restore it, at almost any price. Via Moscow, Bennett is trying to achieve further obstacles on Iran's path to nuclear weapon capability. This looks like an impossible task, since Russia pushed for an agreement with the regime in Teheran more than any other country, and it has especially good relations with that regime, which include arms sales, and even assistance with its civilian nuclear program.

But even Russia has no interest in Iran having nuclear weapons, and Israel is trying to persuade Russia to introduce into the agreement what the US is finding it difficult to achieve (and perhaps isn't really trying to achieve, since its representative to the talks, Robert Malley, wants an agreement at any price), namely real restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, close and effective supervision, and, more than anything, extension of the validity of the agreement beyond the end of the current agreement in two-and-a-half years' time.

Will it help? Perhaps. Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has said that his country will demand assurances from Washington that it will be able to trade freely with Iran, despite the sanctions on it, as a condition for Russia's support for the plan for returning to the agreement that US President Donald Trump repudiated, being formulated between Iran and the powers in Vienna. Iran responded sharply that the crisis in Ukraine should not be tied to the nuclear agreement issue.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 6, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Naftali Bennett depart for meetings with Vladimir Putin and Olaf Scholz  credit: Prime Minister's Bureau
Naftali Bennett depart for meetings with Vladimir Putin and Olaf Scholz credit: Prime Minister's Bureau
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018