By Yossi Melman
Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting, here in Israel, with a huge delegation: 300 members – cabinet ministers, military chiefs, businessmen and oligarchs. Officially the visit is to inaugurate a memorial site in the Mediterranean resort city of Netanya for the victims of the Second World War, meaning that there is a strong Holocaust theme; and perhaps primarily, for the visitors, hailing the victory of the Red Army over the Nazis.
The visit will also focus on improving economic ties between Israel and Russia and possible deals involving newly developed gas fields discovered by Israeli companies in the Mediterranean.
There certainly are political elements, too. Putin will also have talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — himself a former Soviet citizen who moved to Israel thirty-four years ago at age 20.
One of the most important issues will be Iran. Israeli leaders hope to persuade Putin to change his policy and support tougher sanctions, and even to give Israel a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. But, as we discuss in Spies against Armageddon, it is highly unlikely that Putin will accommodate any of Israel’s requests. Putin the modern day Czar of Russia will stick to his position opposing tougher sanctions and a military strike.
On Syria, Russia has major interests in keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power — as Russia’s navy enjoys using Syrian facilities as a warm-water port, and probably also to annoy and weaken Western goals in the Middle East region. Israel does not have a clear position on the future of Syria: government ministers pointing out atrocities by the Assad regime, such as the massacres of civilians, while Israel does not know who it would prefer to be in charge of its important neighbor to the Northeast.