Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu will arrive in Israel for an official visit this week. He is due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is hosting him.
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Shoygu’s visit has been on the schedule for a long time, but its timing – it comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would decertify the nuclear agreement with Iran, coupled with Russia’s ongoing involvement in the Middle East – is perceived as significant by security officials.
Plans for the visit include showing Shoygu how the Iranians are gaining strength in Syria and the implications of this for Israel. Shoygu and Lieberman are also expected to discuss closer security ties between the two countries in the context of Syria’s civil war.
A series of meetings between the Russians and senior Israel Defense Forces officials was held in the past in both Tel Aviv and Moscow to prevent unnecessary friction, especially in the air and at sea.
This will be the Russian defense minister’s first visit to Israel since he took office in 2012. In April, Lieberman met with him at a security conference in Moscow. During the same trip he also met with Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, telling them that Israel would not allow Iran and Hezbollah to concentrate forces in the Golan Heights. At the time, a statement from Lieberman’s office said he had “expressed concern over Iranian activity in Syria and the Iranian use of Syrian soil as a base for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
In March, Netanyahu had a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Netanyahu presented Iran’s activities in Syria to Putin and said that there was an Iranian attempt to establish a seaport in the coastal city of Tartus. “These things have serious implications for Israel’s security. This is not acceptable to us,” Netanyahu said.
Lieberman is expected to fly to Washington for meetings on Wednesday night, a trip that was also scheduled some time ago. He will meet with his American counterpart, Defense Secretary James Mattis.