FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE? Putin messages to Bennett and Netanyahu highlight Israel’s tightrope diplomacy

Israeli leaders have been frequently forced to navigate between conflicting Russian and U.S. interests.

By World Israel News Staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Benjamin Netanyahu a personal telegram expressing “appreciation” for the  former prime minister’s years of work and calling him an “asset” to Israel.

Putin also sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, saying that future cooperation would help strengthen “peace, security and stability in the Middle East.”

Israeli leaders have been frequently forced to walk a tightrope between Russian and U.S. interests. Navigating between the two has become more complicated by Russian and Iranian moves in neighboring Syria as well as Russian support for Iran’s nuclear program. How Bennett will manage relations with Moscow remains to be seen.

Here’s a look back at how Netanyahu maneuvered with Russia — sometimes successfully, sometimes less so.

2014: In a move that angered the U.S. State Department, Israel took a neutral stance on Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

2015: When the Russian military intervened in the Syrian civil war, Netanyahu and Putin boosted their communications to avoid Israeli and Russian forces coming into conflict.

2016: On Netanyahu’s instructions, Israel’s delegation to the UN skipped a General Assembly vote on Syrian and Russian war crimes in Syria. The very next day, Russia’s ambassador to the UN proposed the Security Council postpone a vote on Israeli settlements until after the inauguration of Donald Trump.

2017: Russia recognized”West Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, though its embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

2018: During an Israeli air strike in Syria, Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian plane. Moscow blamed Israel for not giving notice of the strike and for using the Russian plane as shield. Israel denied the accusations, and Moscow went on to sell Syria an advanced S-300 missile system.

2019: In a goodwill gesture, Russia facilitated the return of the remains of Israeli MIA Zachary Baumel from Syria. The soldier disappeared and was presumed dead during the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon.

2019: Images of Netanyahu and Putin appeared on Likud campaign posters around Israel.

2019: Israeli national Naama Issachar was arrested and held in Russia on charges of drug possession. Israeli officials said Russia detained her as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Russian national Aleksei Burkov from Israeli custody. Burkov was due to be extradited to the U.S., where he was wanted for cyber crimes. Burkov was extradited anyway and Putin pardoned Issachar in 2020.

2020: As a goodwill gesture to Russia, Israel released two Syrian prisoners, one of whom was convicted of espionage. Media reports suggested that the Kremlin was seeking a quid pro quo with Jerusalem in which Israel would assist in ending Western sanctions against the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. In return, Moscow would permit Israel to continue its airstrikes on Iranian interests in Syria.

Around one million Russian Jews live in Israel today.