Netanyahu needs Moscow as a mediator

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went ahead with a scheduled visit to Moscow despite a terrorist attack Wednesday at a bus stop in central Jerusalem. The back-to-back visits to Moscow by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and now Prime Minister Netanyahu can be counted as a significant achievement for Russian diplomacy.

Netanyahu’s talks with President Dmitry Medvedev were kept low-key, given the heightened sensitivity around Mideast issues these days. But his visit alone speaks volumes. Israel is apparently so troubled by the recent developments in the Middle East that Netanyahu did not see a terrorist attack in the capital as a valid reason to skip a meeting with top Russian officials.

Already, some experts are predicting a “border war” between Israel and the two Palestinian territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Militants have been stepping up rocket attacks on towns in southern Israel. And on the West Bank, a group of terrorists recently murdered an Israeli family of five in cold blood.

Israel has always responded to terrorist attacks in the Old Testament tradition of eye for an eye. Ahead of his latest trip to Moscow, Netanyahu vowed to retaliate for the latest attack in Jerusalem, making it clear that Israel would continue its zero-tolerance policy.

Having said that, radical groups in the West Bank and Gaza pose no existential threat to Israel, unlike Iran’s nuclear program. And the fear of a hostile Egypt on its borders has preoccupied Israelis since Mubarak was overthrown. The Israelis’ cautious attitude to the recent democratic transformations in Egypt is quite understandable, as they could empower political forces seeking to abolish the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel. Unlike Syria and Lebanon, which do not have the resources to inflict serious damage on Israel, Egypt’s powerful army has been receiving ample financial and military aid from the United States over the past 30 years.

A collective sigh of relief could be heard in Israel when it became clear that the army would maintain its authority in post-Mubarak Egypt — if only for the time being. The Egyptian military brass are unlikely to take any abrupt steps, as they are still the recipients of generous support from the United States (last year alone, they got $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer money).

For now, Iran remains the greatest threat to Irael. For years, it has been waging a war of words against the “Zionist entity,” as Israel is referred to by Iranian officials.

As the world’s only capital visited by Israeli, Palestinian and Iranian leaders alike, Moscow is one of the very few mediators through which Israel could pursue indirect negotiations with its rivals. It is perhaps significant that on the day of Netanyahu’s visit, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said an upcoming visit by leaders of Hamas is possible.

While in Moscow, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated the need to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Perhaps he was hoping to secure the support of top Russian officials on this front.

If there is to be any progress in the Middle East, Israeli officials will first have to tone down their own heated rhetoric. During his latest visit to Moscow, for instance, Netanyahu compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler. Also, the prime minister ften has to apologize for the undiplomatic rhetoric of his Cabinet ministers, notably his outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

The Israeli government is often led astray by its own dogma. It stubbornly believes that democracy in the Middle East would be a disaster, and that all the 300 million Arabs want the Jewish state wiped off the map. Russia’s leadership could make a significant contribution to peace in the Middle East by working to help Israel’s Russian-speaking population overcome this and other misperceptions.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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