TASS. Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Israel on January 23 to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Below is a brief summary of Russian-Israeli relations.
The Soviet Union was the first to recognize de-jure the state of Israel on May 18, 1948, and established diplomatic relations with it about a week later. The Soviet Union’s military support (delivery of military equipment and ammunition via Czechoslovakia, including combat planes) helped Israel to win the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949.
Relations started to worsen as the country’s political leadership assumed the pro-American course after the war. In February 1953, diplomatic ties were severed at USSR’s initiative. The formal pretext for the move was a blast at the Russian diplomatic mission in Israel, in which three people were injured. Soviet Union blamed the Israeli government for the incident.
Diplomatic ties were restored several months later, in July 1953.
In June 1967, after the start of the Six-Day War, the Soviet Union once again severed relations with Israel as a sign of solidarity with Arab countries. Diplomatic relations remained suspended for 24 years, as the Soviet leadership disagreed with Israel’s regional policies (including Arab-Israeli wars in 1973 and 1982). Consular relations were restored in 1987, while full-fledged diplomatic relations resumed on October 18, 1991. In December 1991, Israel recognized Russia as the successor state of the Soviet Union.
Bilateral treaties and other documents
Bilateral cooperation of Russia and Israel is streamlined by a vast number of treaties, agreements and other documents. The two countries have already signed agreements on air traffic (1993), on trade and economic cooperation (1994), on cooperation in science and technology (1994), on avoiding dual taxation (1994), on joint fight against organized crime and international terrorism (1997), on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs affairs (1997), on sea transport (2003), on visa-free exchanges (2008), on cooperation in space (2011), on cooperation in social security (2016) and many others.
Middle Eastern settlement issues
The issue of Middle East settlement remained central in political contacts between Russia and Israel throughout the entire period of bilateral relations. As an active participant of the peace process and a member of the Middle East Quartet of negotiators for the Israeli-Palestinian settlement (Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations), Moscow is guided by UN resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, as well as the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2003 roadmap, proposed by the Quartet. Russia stands for creating an independent Palestinian state that would peacefully co-exist with Israel within 1967 borders, and for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories.
After US President Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that his country recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Moscow expressed concern by the move, stressing that it "remains committed to UN decision on reconciliation principles," including the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of West Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned terrorist attacks against peaceful citizens of Israel, carried out by Palestinian extremist groups who deny peace process and resort to violence to attain their political goals.
After Washington recognized the legitimacy of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, Russia said its position on the issue remained unchanged. Russia’s principled stance was outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 stating that "Israel’s creation of settlements on Palestinian soil occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal force and is a violation of international law and one of major obstacles for achieving Palestinian-Israeli settlement based on a two-state principle and also establishing fair, stable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
In response to the March 2019 US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, two thirds of which were seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, Moscow said that according to UN Security Council Resolution 497 (dated December 17, 1981), those lands belong to Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin later described the US decision as a breach of UN Security Council resolutions.
As a member of the Middle East Quartet, Russia supports soonest resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestine with an aim to forge solution to key issues, such as Israeli settlement construction, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. The negotiation process was suspended in April 2014, after rival Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas announced forming a national unity government. At that point, Israel said it would not engage in negotiations with the Palestinian government supported by "terrorist organization Hamas, which calls for destroying Israel."
Syrian settlement issues
The situation in Syria, hit by a longtime civil conflict, became an important part of Russian-Israeli agenda in recent years. Russia and Israel have different approaches to the issue. Moscow actively promotes political settlement and negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government on one side and the opposition on the other. Since September 30, 2019, Russia has been supporting the Syrian armed forces in their fight against the Islamic State terrorist group (outlawed in Russia). Russian Aerospace Defense Forces are conducting a military operation against extremists on the Syrian territory. Israel does not support any party to the conflict and is not taking part in Syrian reconciliation talks. At the same time, the Israeli Air Force regularly strike militants from Lebanon's Hezbollah group, which supports Assad and has close ties to Iran. As Russia has been actively cooperating with Tehran within the framework of Syrian reconciliation, Israel has expressed its concerns about Tehran’s growing influence in the region and Russian arms contracts (including S-300 surface-to-air missile systems) with the country.
In the fall of 2015, in order to safeguard the two countries’ military from accidental clashes in Syria, Israel and Russia established a deconfliction mechanism, and the Israeli General Staff set up a special coordination center to this aim.
However, relations between Russia and Israel were soured after the September 17, 2018 air incident above Syria. On that day, Russia’s Il-20 aircraft was accidently downed by Syrian air defenses over the Mediterranean Sea when it was returning to the Hmeymim airbase. The plane had 15 servicemen on board, all of them died. Russian top brass said a missile from Syria’s S-200 system downed the aircraft when it targeted four Israeli F-16 fighter jets, which attacked facilities in Latakia. The Israeli Air Force and those who made the decision to use the Il-20 aircraft as cover are solely to blame for its crash, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.
After the incident, the Russian government decided to deliver S-300 air defense systems to Syria (handed over in October 2018). Scheduled talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were cancelled.
Relations improved by early 2019. In February 2019, Netanyahu made his first visit to Moscow after the Il-20 incident. In the course of negotiations, the sides agreed to continue coordinating actions between Russian and Israeli military in Syria.
In order to streamline Russian-Israeli economic ties, the two states set up the Mixed Russian-Israeli Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (created in 1994) and the Russian Israeli Business Council (founded in 2010).
According to Russia’s Federal Customs Service, the Russian-Israeli trade in 2019 stood at $1.73 billion on the first nine months of 2019, down 17.63% year-on-year. Russian exports stood at $1.17 billion, Israeli imports - at $558 million.