The author of this article interprets developments in the modern international relations surrounding the administrations of Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. The text reflects exclusively the point of view of the author. At the same time, the public performance accompanying the release of the Israeli-American woman detained with cannabis in the Russian airport was a unprecedented case. There had been no such sensational releases of foreign citizens detained with narcotic drugs in Russia. On the other hand, the Russian stance in the Israeli-Arab settlement remains same. So, Putin’s actions could be described as a diplomatic game.
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Submitted by Joshua Tartakovsky
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a soft spot for the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister made the case that Iraq is working hard to produce an atomic bomb, persuaded congress to go to war with Iraq. He is now currently making the case that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and is thereby actively pushing for a war between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran (https://www.foxnews.com/media/netanyahu-trump-iran-soleimani-killing). Moreover, Netanyahu claims credit for persuading US President Trump to drop out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, an agreement supported by Russia.
An active supporter of sanctions, Netanyahu supported the harsh sanctions against the Iraqi economy at the time, and now supports the inhumane sanctions against the people of Iran (while claiming all the while that the people of Iran are brilliant but that their regime makes them poor).
On Tuesday, January 28, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been indicted of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud. He is facing elections in Israel in March 2, 2020 after failing to secure a winning majority in the two previous elections.
Russian President Putin decided to help Netanyahu in his campaign for reelection. Putin pardoned a 26 year old Israeli-American woman who has been held in a Russian prison since April 2019. The woman was caught in the Moscow airport while in transit from India with 9 grammes of cannabis in her luggage. For this fairly minor amount, she was harshly sentenced for seven and a half years in prison. During his recent visit to Israel to attend a ceremony in Jerusalem marking 75 years for the liberation of Auschwitz, Putin met with the woman’s mother. Following a formal request for pardon by the female prisoner, Putin granted her pardon. Subsequently, after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in the White House in which the latter proposed his boastful Deal of the Century, a meeting in which neither Putin nor any major Palestinian or Arab leader was present, Netanyahu’s plane flew directly to Moscow from where he retrieved the Israeli-American woman and flew with her back to Israel.
Not a bad token for Netanyahu, who is facing reelection exactly one month from now.
This is not the first time Putin seeks to help Netanyahu with his reelection by providing missing persons, dead or alive. On April 4, 2019, Putin provided Israel with the remains of an Israeli soldier, Zachary Baumel, who has been missing in south Lebanon since 10 June, 1982. The soldier’s family waited over 37 years to know for certain that he was dead and to have his physical remains nearby. On April 9, 2019, the legislative elections were held in Israel. Netanyahu failed to gain a comfortable majority that would allow him to rule with ease.
What did Putin get out of releasing the Israeli-American woman who had cannabis in her bag?
Perhaps it would be more useful to begin with what what Putin did not gain.
He did not gain respect for the Russian court system and presented its decisions as being politically motivated.
Earlier, the Kremlin said in response to mounting Israeli public pressure to release the woman, due to the arguably disproportionate prison sentence, that the decision remains a matter of the Russian courts and that the President could not dictate its ruling. Now, Putin made it clear that the court’s ruling in October 2019 was too strict. The court decided to imprison the woman for seven and a half years, but four months later, the Kremlin decided to pardon the woman. It therefore showed that if one brings in cannabis in his luggage to Russia but happens to be an Israeli, he can rest assured that he will be pardoned within less than a year. Alternately it could mean that the Russian court imposed a strict punishment to give Russia an extra card in its dealings with Israel and the west more generally, and this card has been rapidly used.
Putin did not gain the release of a Russian hacker arrested in Israel who was handed over to the United States.
The hacker, who arguably stole confidential details of Americans’ credit card details and traded them in 20 million USD worth, was arrested in Israel in 2015 while he was on a stop over. His details and information were extradited from his phone by the Israeli police despite a lack of a judge’s warrant. He was imprisoned until the end of 2020, all the while hoping that the Russians will not forget him. But the Russians did forget him, and the Israeli Justice Minister handed him over to the US, where he faces charges of fraud, money laundering and identity theft.
Russia did not gain a stakeholder’s say in Trump’s Deal of the Century, not that there is much left there for compromise or dialogue anyway. It is also fair to say it also did not get a commitment from Netanyahu to stop his attacks in Syria and to alter his war-mongering policies towards Iran. In fact, in the past Netanyahu and Putin met often to discuss deescalation mechanisms in Syria but this did not stop Israel from carrying frequent air attacks in Syria. Moreover, a Syrian missile brought down a Russian plane shortly after air strikes carried out by the Israeli air force in September 2018.
However, there may be some gains for Russia from the release of the Israeli-American female backpacker.
Danny Zaken, writing for Al Monitor, writes that these gains revolve mostly around property and religion. First, Israel is arguably making an effort to secure the Russian Orthodox Church’s property rights to the Alexander Nevsky Church in East Jerusalem. (The Russian request in this case is in itself a significant change, as the Russian government refrained to recognizing Israel’s authority over East Jerusalem in the past). Secondly, Israel has arguably agreed to change the route of the light rail that passed by a Russian Orthodox Church in the Ein Karem neighborhood of Jerusalem. Third, a Russian Government owned hotel in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem is to receive a tax break similar to the tax break enjoyed by the Holy See in the Holy Land.
Another area where Russia received recognition is the fact that Putin was invited to speak in Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum marking 75 years for the liberation of Auschwitz, while Poland decided to boycott the event since Putin mentioned earlier that the Polish ambassador to Berlin prior to the war, Józef Lipski, was an anti-Semite. It is true that Poland did not invite Russia to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, although the camp was liberated by the Red Army and that this year Russia had the opportunity to score a political point with Poland. However, although RT reported that Israel’s Transportation Minister Israel Katz told Putin that “we know who did it” and how grateful he is that the Red Army liberated his mother from Auschwitz, the fact remains that Israel’s Zionist educational system continues to indoctrinate hundreds of thousands of Israeli youth that the Jews faced the Nazis all alone with help from no one, and that Israel therefore can rely on no one today. Similarly, while Israeli ministers may tell the Russians that they are grateful for the role played by the Red Army, they do not use the same language when speaking to an Israeli audience. Instead, they once again, rely on Israel’s exclusive victim hood and its inability to trust anyone else (while at the same time relying on extensive US support).
The pardon granted by Putin for the Israeli-American backpacker in Russia demonstrates the close relationship he enjoys with Netanyahu. It shows how far Putin is willing to go in providing free gifts to the indicted politician that do not bring peace any closer, not do they help Russia’s national interest nor its status as a regional power in the Middle East. In fact, the Putin-Netanyahu relationship can be rightly characterized as a subservient one, in which Putin keeps making concessions while getting little in return.
Israel has long portrayed itself as the gateway to America to both the Russians and the Chinese who are seeking either the ease of the sanctions or a better trade deal. The Chinese,practical as they are and secure in their identity as an Asian power, have learned long ago that this was mostly empty talk. But the Russians, gullible as they are and hungry for western recognition, continue to believe Netanyahu. While RT may try to cover up Putin’s act by providing a revealing picture of the released female backpacker, the Putin-Netanyahu relationship ends with Netanyahu getting the upper hand once again. Meanwhile, the people of the Middle East, Arabs and Jews alike, will have to continue to suffer under Netanyahu, Putin’s favorite for Israel’s leadership.