Haaretz Editorial

Putin Must Get Tougher With Assad

We cannot ignore that Putin's policy on Syria was buried beneath the visit's festive atmosphere.

Vladimir Putin, who visited Israel this week and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, is the president of a very important power. The ability of that power to shape the Middle East's balance of power and influence the international agenda cannot be overestimated. We must hope that the Israeli leaders who met with Putin took advantage of a rare opportunity to persuade their guest to scrutinize Russia's positions from an Israeli perspective as well.

But we cannot ignore that Putin's policy on Syria was buried beneath the visit's festive atmosphere. More than 15,000 Syrians have been killed since March 2011, and the civil war developing there threatens not only Syria but the entire region. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled their homes, and many are living outside Syria.

Yet Russia continues arming Bashar Assad's army while rejecting foreign intervention. Russia supports UN special envoy Kofi Annan's plan for ending the crisis, but is not wielding its influence to get Assad on board. And it has vetoed every UN resolution that includes a hint that Assad is responsible for the massacre of his own people.

Netanyahu drew the world's attention to the role of Iran and Hezbollah in the massacre in Syria. "The true axis of evil has reared its ugly head," the prime minister said. But someone who can stop a massacre and doesn't put everything he has into stopping it could be considered a partner to that massacre. This partner has just been Israel's guest.

Unfortunately, this is the same partner Israel needs to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium. Horse trading in interests and morality is part and parcel of foreign policy, and it's impolite to throw the faults of a guest country in its face - certainly when the host country often makes a mockery of UN resolutions. But that doesn't mean Israel should remain silent in the face of the tragedy going on in a neighboring country.