Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladmir Putin Sunday, after Putin’s visit to the region and a trip by Iran’s president to Moscow.
Netanyahu cut short a cabinet meeting to speak with Putin on the phone an hour about Israeli hostages in Gaza and the crisis in the Middle East. He voiced “robust disapproval” of Russia’s “dangerous cooperation” with Iran, echoing concerns repeatedly voiced by the United States.
Russian and Iranian military cooperation has widened since the invasion of Ukraine. Tehran has delivered hundreds of Kamikaze drones that have been used against Ukrainian civilian and infrastructure targets. Russia is also poised to deliver advanced fighter planes to Iran and possibly receive ballistic missiles.
Criticizing Russian statements attacking Israel for its military operation in Gaza, Netanyahu told Putin that any country would have responded as Israel has to the October 7 Hamas attack and the killing of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians and the taking of hostages.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Putin to use his influence to help the 138 remaining hostages, including pressure on the Red Cross to pay humanitarian visits to the captives.
Putin traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia this week and returned to Moscow to receive Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The two held talks for three hours on Thursday and discussed the Middle East crisis. Iran and Qatar are pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza, that Israel and the United States say would simply help Hamas to survive and lead to more crises in the future. It is not clear if Putin’s diplomatic meetings were an important part of what he discussed with Netanyahu.
In the meantime, there was a serious flare up of fighting between the Lebanese Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the border of the two countries. Hezbollah said it had launched explosive drones at an Israeli command position on Sunday and extensive Israeli air strikes hit south Lebanon.
The Israeli army said “suspicious aerial targets” had crossed from Lebanon and two were intercepted. Two Israeli soldiers were moderately wounded, and several others lightly injured from shrapnel and smoke inhalation, it said.
Israeli fighter jets carried out “an extensive series of strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanese territory”, it said.
Although Hezbollah was initially expected to join the war to help Hamas by dividing Israeli forces, it has stayed out of large-scale hostilities, launching occasional and limited attacks on Israeli forces near the border. It has not fired any of its tens of thousands of missiles at Israel civilian targets.
Hezbollah’s cautious behavior follows Iran’s reluctance to directly get involved in military hostilities to help Hamas. Tehran has tried to shake off accusations that it greenlighted the Hamas attack, but its proxies have launched nearly 100 attacks against US and Israeli targets, in addition to attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea.