Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met March 17 along with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who welcomed the extent of coordination between the international locations on worldwide and regional points, notably the confidential dialogue channel established in recent times between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ashkenazi stated, “I have a feeling we have an understanding on the level of the heads of states. My prime minister, your president. I think it’s the fourth or fifth time that we are meeting or talking, and I am fully committed to further enhancing this relationship. It does not mean that here and there we don’t have different view perspectives, but I can sincerely say that we have a transparent, honest, professional discussion, as friends should have.’’
Ashkenazi thanked Lavrov for Russia’s assistance on humanitarian issues, mentioning Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers without offering any details. The Syrian media reported last month that Russia has been searching Syrian cemeteries for the remains of two IDF soldiers missing since 1982.
Before the joint session, Ashkenazi laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, where Russia commemorates Red Army soldiers who fought in World War II. It was a moving event for Ashkenazi as an Israeli, Jew and former IDF soldier. ‘’We remember the central role of the Russian army in World War II and their liberation of extermination camps throughout Europe, and we will remain eternally grateful for this,’’ Ashkenazi tweeted afterward.
Ashkenazi’s visit celebrates 30 years of restored Israel-Russian diplomatic relations, with a list of events that will take place in both countries throughout the year. The visit also is taking place against the backdrop of Israel’s March 23 elections and while the country’s leadership is engaged in diplomatic campaigns against the Iranian nuclear threat and the move by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation of possible Israeli war crimes.
Ashkenazi arrived in the Russian capital only two days after a visit there by the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, Mohammad Raad, who also met with Lavrov. The Iranian file is probably the most difficult topic between Russia and Israel, who do not see eye to eye on a possible new deal with Tehran.
Ashkenazi has personally engaged in the campaign against the ICC probe beginning of February, when the court ruled it has jurisdiction over Israeli actions in Palestinian territories. Since then, and more so since the March 3 announcement by outgoing ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that the court was opening an investigation, Ashkenazi has been calling and meeting counterparts in states considered friendly to Israel, such as Germany, Austria and Hungary. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is currently in Austria in the framework of a three-day trip to Europe also focusing on this issue.
Other issues on the Russian-Israeli agenda March 17 in Moscow were Iran’s presence in Syria and the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V.
According to Syrian state news agency SANA, Israeli jets allegedly hit targets in Syria the night of March 16 after a shipment of arms reportedly arrived at Damascus International Airport earlier in the day. Israeli analysts, who say Israel has been generally careful not to hit targets that could compromise the Russian presence in Syria, estimated that the timing of the reported airstrikes had no relation with the meeting with Lavrov and were not carried out to send any sort of message to the Russians.
Also, Russia has been pressuring Israel to recognize Sputnik V vaccinations for COVID-19. Moscow would like Jerusalem to allow those inoculated with the Russian vaccine to enter Israel without being quarantined or having to present an antibody test.