Planned Netanyahu-Putin meeting in Moscow 'postponed'
AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, pool
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday canceled his trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for the next day, as both parties "mutually agreed to postpone the meeting for several days" without providing an explanation for the decision.
Announced earlier this month, the purpose of the meeting was for the two world leaders to discuss Iranian activities in Syria and would mark their first official meeting since the September downing of a Russian military plane by Syrian air defenses in the midst of Israeli airstrikes.
According to sources in Netanyahu’s Likud party, the Israeli premier decided to postpone the meeting due to a number of developments within the Israeli election framework set to occur within the next several days.
Thursday marks the last day for Israeli parties to finalize their candidate lists ahead of the April 9 parliament (Knesset) elections, and many eyes are are watching to see whether top Netanyahu challenger Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party will merge with centrist Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid.
Speculation that Gantz and Lapid would announce a merger has been rampant leading up to the elections, with recent reports claiming the two could ally in a deal that would see them alternate for the top spot.
Such a merger would pose a significant challenge to netanyahu's hopes to win reelection, with recent polls including an i24NEWS-Israel Hayom poll revealing that an alliance between Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid would earn 32 seats to Likud’s 28.
Postponed Moscow meeting
According to a senior Israeli official, "with the agreement of both sides" the meeting in Moscow between Netanyahu and Putin was "postponed for several days," but a joint phone call was said to take place on Thursday.
It would have been the first face-to-face meeting and follows a series of airstrikes in January against what Israel said were facilities belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force in Syria.
"It's very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria," the Israeli premier said of the planned meeting. "This is one of the subjects, the main subject, that I'll be discussing with President Putin."
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria in the past few years against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, and the Jewish state and Russia have set up a "deconfliction" hotline to avoid accidental clashes.
That mechanism was stretched when a Russian military aircraft was mistakenly shot down by Syrian air defenses after an Israeli raid in September.
Fifteen Russian soldiers were killed and the Russian army accused Israeli pilots of using Moscow's plane as cover to evade Syrian gunfire.
As part of its response, Russia announced new security measures to protect its military in Syria, including supplying it with an S-300 air defense system and jamming the radars of nearby warplanes.
Both Russia and Israel's arch-enemy Iran are allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have helped his forces inflict numerous defeats on rebels and jihadists.
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Between IL & I, Putin knows full wel who is the enemy.