Moscow says move could lead to a ‘sharp escalation of tensions’ in the Middle East, harm chances for peace
AFPToday, 10:15 pm
Russia warned Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley could escalate tensions, as the Israeli premier geared up to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian foreign ministry said it was concerned over the Israeli leadership’s plan, saying its implementation could lead to a “sharp escalation of tensions in the region (and) undermine hopes for the establishment of long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”
Moscow pointed out that Netanyahu’s pre-election pledge drew a “sharp negative reaction” in the Arab world and reiterated its call for direct talks between Israel and Palestinians.
Battling to win re-election in September 17 polls, Netanyahu issued the pledge on Tuesday night, drawing firm condemnation from the Palestinians, Arab states, the United Nations and the European Union.
The pushback from Moscow came at a particularly awkward time for the Israeli leader, who is slated to travel Thursday to the Russian resort of Sochi for talks with Putin.
The trip is largely seen as a chance for Netanyahu to burnish his diplomatic bona fides ahead of the Israeli vote.
“The leaders will discuss regional issues including the situation in Syria, with an emphasis on tightening the military coordination mechanisms,” Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday.
Netanyahu is also expected to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Netanyahu’s ties to Putin are seen by him as important in pulling in votes from Israel’s large community of Russian speakers. Contacts with Moscow ramped up in recent years as Israel carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran and Tehran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Like Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war. But Moscow has largely allowed Israel to go ahead with the airstrikes unimpeded.
Israel and Russia have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria, but the system did not prevent a friendly fire incident in September 2018 in which Syrian air defenses accidentally downed a Russian plane during an Israeli raid, angering the Kremlin, which blamed Israel.
Netanyahu also met with Putin in Moscow days ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.
Voters with roots in the former Soviet Union are thought to make up some 12 percent of the 6.3 million eligible voters in Israel — or some 770,000 people.
Netanyahu has hoped to pull Russian community voters away from rival Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party has traditionally been their home. Liberman refused to enter Netanyahu’s coalition after the April election, denying him a majority coalition and leading the prime minister to call new elections.
Evidence has so far pointed to Netanyahu’s efforts to hurt Liberman having failed, with Yisrael Beytenu consistently projected in polls to jump to 9-10 seats from its current tally of five.