The Real Story behind Naftali Bennett’s Trip to Moscow

On March 5, the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Russia, where he had a several-hours-long meeting with Vladimir Putin. That the trip took place on Shabbat—Bennett is an Orthodox Jews—stressed its significance. Some criticized Jerusalem for making an apparent overture to the Kremlin just two weeks after it launched its massive military offensive into Ukraine, but it later became clear that Volodymyr Zelensky had himself requested Israeli mediation. Based on a series of interviews, Moav Vardi explains the strategic logic behind this carefully planned diplomatic initiative:

Any negotiation between Russia and Ukraine is, in essence, a negotiation between Russia and the United States. . . . Major Western leaders like France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who met with Putin at the Kremlin in the days before the war, were not seen by Russia as potential mediators, but as parties adverse in interests.

Before [Bennett embarked] on this mission, it was imperative that key Western leaders bless [the] initiative. And they did. His meeting with Putin was coordinated with the U.S., France, and Germany before he even took off for Moscow.

At the time that Bennett intervened, the Russians and Ukrainians had already been at the negotiating table in Belarus for five days. But there was a hitch. Those negotiations were revealed to be a bit of a charade. The Russian representatives feared Putin and were unwilling to suggest anything that diverged from Moscow’s official line. To do so meant risking being accused by “the state” of weakness and endangering Russian interests.

For the same reasons, Putin’s emissaries did not transmit Ukrainian positions to their boss, fearing his reaction upon hearing them. The only way to have a real exchange of views was through a direct conversation between a Western leader and Putin. Enter Naftali Bennett.

Read more at State of Tel Aviv

More about: Israel diplomacy, Naftali Bennett, U.S. Foreign policy, War in Ukraine

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds