Russian president Vladimir Putin lands at Ben Gurion Airport Monday for a visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in an effort to improve his image, blackened by support for Syria and Iran.
Russia has been engaged in a modern version of the diplomatic Cold War standoff between Washington and Moscow 60 years ago and has been an obstacle to moves by Western allies that would allow them to be the major influence on Iran’s nuclear development and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s violent struggle to keep himself and his regime alive at the expense of the lives of thousands of civilians who have been bombed to death and gunned down in the streets.
Russia has a huge vested interest in Iran and Syria through technological investments and military sales, similar to its stake in Libya, where the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi cost it billions of dollars in military deals.
The Arab world increasingly fears Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its stated desire to rule an Islamic Middle East empire, and also has openly opposed Assad’s continuing refusal to surrender.
Moscow’s support of Assad has unmasked it as an opponent to democracy, and Putin’s visit – along with more than 300 aides and advisors – is aimed at raising his political profile.
Putin in 2005 was the first Russian president to visit Israel, and this time around he will make a high-profile trip to Bethlehem and to Jordan.
"The message (the Russians) will receive is that Israel can't tolerate a nuclear Iran," said Yaakov Livne, head of the Russia desk at the Israeli foreign ministry, according to the Yisrael HaYom newspaper.
"Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution, but we will use any means to protect Israel's survival... We expect Russia, as a member of the Security Council, to demonstrate responsibility and help to prevent the Iranian nuclear race. I think that will be the most important issue on the agenda during the visit."
Putin’s presence in Israel could serve as a warning to Iran that Moscow could cross the line and become closer to Israel if Iran does not cooperate with the United Nations and open up its nuclear sites for full inspection.