Russia's Chief Rabbi Reportedly Paid Secret Visit to Iran on Trip Organized by Putin

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Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar stands next to Russian President Vladimir Putin after receiving a medal, July 31, 2014.
Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar stands next to Russian President Vladimir Putin after receiving a medal, July 31, 2014.Credit: Press Service of the President of Russia / Wikimedia Commons

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar secretly visited Iran almost six months ago as part of a diplomatic trip organized by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israeli media reported over the weekend.

The Islamic Republic opposed the rabbi's arrival, but Putin himself insisted on Lazar's participation in the diplomatic mission, the website Ynetnews reported. The trip was reportedly headed by the chairman of Russia's State Duma and included talks in the Iranian parliament.

Lazar, who heads the Chabad movement in Russia, is considered close to Putin and is often accused of supporting the president unconditionally in exchange for his regime’s seal of approval for Chabad.

During the 24-hour visit, which took place on April 9, Lazar reportedly met with Jewish community leaders and visited various Jewish institutions in Tehran, including the central synagogue and a Jewish school. 

According to Ynetnews, Lazar's activities in Iran were strictly limited to the Jewish community. About 10,000 Jews live in Iran at present, the third-largest concentration of Jews in the Middle East after Israel and Turkey.

None of the reports specified the nature of the diplomatic mission, but the Arutz Sheva news website, which first reported on the trip, did note that the visit may have been linked to Israel's attempts to thwart Iran's military entrenchment in Syria.

Israel has argued for months that Iran needs to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country. In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have stated that while both Russia and the U.S. agree with Israel that Iran needs to exit Syria, it is currently unrealistic for Russia to force Iran out of the country.

Both Russia and Iran have been allies of the Assad regime during the Syrian civil war, which is now drawing to a close. Backed by his allies, Syrian President Bashar Assad is preparing a major military offensive against the Idlib province in northwest Syria, one of the last strongholds of the Sunni rebels.

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