Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for Moscow in two days. On Thursday, 9 March, he is scheduled to visit the Russian capital, meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and return the same day.
He is making the trip unaccompanied by the press corps.
At the start of his weekly Diplomatic-Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his meeting with Putin would focus on Syria. Among other things, he said:
"The effort to formulate an agreement [regarding Syria] will be at the center of our conversation. In the context of this agreement, or without it, Iran is trying to establish itself permanently in Syria, with a military presence on the ground and at sea; and also [to make] a gradual attempt to open a front against us on the Golan Heights," Netanyahu said.
"I will express to President Putin Israel's sharp and vigorous opposition to this possibility. I hope we will be able to reach certain understandings in order to reduce possible friction between our forces and theirs, as we have successfully done up until now."
Last month, Netanyahu met with US President Donald Trump at the White House and in a joint press conference touched on ties with Russia. Netanyahu said Israel's ties with Russia had undergone a change for the better, and while Russia was present in Syria, its goal was not to attack Israel. Netanyahu said that Israel was coordinating with Russia and conducting numerous conversations.
Netanyahu said that in phone conversations with the Russian leader, he explained that Israel was not pleased with Russia's operations in Syria or with how the Russian involvement was firing up the Shiite militias and other groups.
The prime minister stressed that Israel and Russia enjoy ties of friendship, but there are several conflicting interests.
Thursday's meeting will mark the first time Netanyahu and Putin have met this year. In 2016 they met twice. They also had two meetings toward the end of 2015, and have spoken several times by telephone.
Prior meetings have focused on preventing misunderstandings between the Israel's military, the IDF, and the Russian forces in Syria. They have also included discussion about Syrian peace talks and Russia's sales of advanced weapons systems to Iran. Israel is determined to prevent those systems from reaching the terrorist organization and Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, based in Lebanon.
The leader of Israel's Opposition in the country's parliament, MK (Member of the Knesset) Isaac Herzog flew to Russia on Sunday. He went in response to an invitation from the Russian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. During his stay in Moscow, Herzog is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, other government representatives, and representatives of the Russian Jewish community.
Before his departure, Herzog said, "In my meetings, I intend to take a strong stance against the weapons supplied to Syria being sent to Hezbollah and against Hezbollah's attempts to expand its sphere of influence to include the Syrian Golan Heights, which marks a red line for Israel."
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by Israel Hayom at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=40875