Bennett, Putin discuss Iran and airstrikes in Syria in five-hour meeting


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to continue the deconfliction mechanism between their air forces over Israeli strikes in Syria, during their first-ever meeting in Russia on Friday.

Putin invited Bennett to return to Russia to visit St. Petersburg with his wife. He called Bennett on Saturday night, after the prime minister ended up staying in Sochi for Shabbat at the last minute because their meeting lasted much longer than expected on Friday.

Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who served as Bennett’s translator, said the central topic of the discussion was the continuity of relations between Israel and Russia.

“There has been a huge conversation on strategic topics,” Elkin said. “They spoke in depth about the current situation of the Iranian nuclear program, and had a very broad conversation about the situation in Syria, while preserving the coordination system. The Prime Minister presented his worldview on how to stop Iran’s nuclear program and prevent Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria.

The meeting took place amid friction in the deconfliction mechanism between Israel and Russia in Syria, where the Russian military maintains a presence. Israel is attacking Iranian targets in Syria in order to prevent Iran and its proxies from establishing bases on Israel’s northern border or transferring weapons to Hezbollah.

Meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 22, 2021 (KOBI GIDEON / GPO)

Bennett and Putin also agreed to speed up work on a trade deal between the countries and on ways to get Russian tourists back to Israel before the FDA approves Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine against COVID. Prior to the trip, Bennett had considered allowing tourists who had received Sputnik-V into Israel, over health ministry objections, as a gesture to Putin.

Elkin, who also translated Putin for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the meeting was “one of the warmest and most intimate of the past decade,” and that Bennett and Putin discussed personal matters, “Which usually does not happen”.

THE POUTINE-BENNETT meeting was scheduled for two hours, with no overnight stay for the Prime Minister, but ultimately lasted five hours. Putin also gave Bennett a tour of the grounds of his vacation home in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Bennett observes Shabbat, and Israeli prime ministers have not traditionally traveled on Shabbat; as such, he ended up spending a night in Sochi, with food provided by the local Chabad house.

Bennett’s trip to Washington in August was also extended until after Shabbat, after a terrorist attack in Kabul killed US servicemen, forcing US President Joe Biden to postpone their meeting from Thursday to Friday.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, Putin spoke about the problems and opportunities between Russia and Israel.

“There are a lot of problematic topics, but there is also a common denominator and a good opportunity for cooperation, especially – of course – in the fight against terrorism,” Putin said.

Putin told Bennett it was “important to discuss regional issues with you. As you know, we are working to rehabilitate the infrastructure in Syria.

Bennett said that “Israel has a million ambassadors, a million Russian-speaking Israelis, who are a great contribution to the culture of Israel, as well as the mentality that they bring here of hard work, of power, of strength.

Putin commented that Israel may have the largest concentration of Russian speakers outside of the former Soviet Union.

Bennett said his meeting with Putin is “based on the deep bond between the two nations. We see you as a true friend of the Jewish people.

Israel and Russia are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations this year. The countries established full ties after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Putin said he hoped that “despite the political problems in Israel,” Jerusalem will continue its approach to Moscow, and said that Israel and Russia have a “unique relationship.”

“We had good trade relations with the previous government and we are happy to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel here in Russia,” he said.

The Russian president also said he is seeking to further develop high-tech cooperation between his country and Israel.

The Israeli prime minister spoke of the role of the Red Army in the defeat of Nazi Germany, an issue important to Putin, and Israel’s efforts to commemorate this history, such as the memorial in Jerusalem for those who perished in the siege of Leningrad, which the Russian president dedicated last year.

“As a student of history, you have to appreciate the courage of the entire Russian nation during these difficult years,” Bennett said.


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