Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 57

Russia and Israel agreed yesterday to create an official consultative mechanism through which the two countries will study the problem of Russian military technology transfers to Iran. The decision came during talks between Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and visiting Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow. The Israeli leader later told reporters that the agreement constituted the principal achievement of his visit to Russia. He said it was noteworthy also because the consultations between the two countries will mark the first time that they deal directly with each other over the problem of technology leaks to Iran. Until now, Netanyahu said, Israel has conducted its talks with Moscow on the issue through the United States (Ha’aretz, Russian agencies, March 22).

Israel, like the United States, has repeatedly accused the Russian government of not doing enough to stop the flow of missile and nuclear technology and know-how to Iran. That message was conveyed anew to Moscow earlier this month during a visit to Russia by Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu, likewise, made clear in the run-up to his arrival in Moscow that continuing Iranian-Russian cooperation in this area was the primary obstacle to improved ties between Israel and Russia. In his remarks to reporters, Netanyahu emphasized that yesterday’s agreement was merely the beginning of a dialogue between the two countries, and suggested that Israel would not move to broaden its defense ties with Russia until Moscow takes concrete steps to sever its military ties to Iran (Ha’aretz, March 22).

It remained unclear from yesterday’s public remarks how seriously Moscow is taking the new agreement, despite the fact that it reportedly came at Primakov’s initiative. In his own comments to reporters, the Russian prime minister repeated Moscow’s standard denial that sensitive Russian military technologies are being leaked to Iran. “I can state quite clearly and unequivocally that Russia observes all international norms relating to export controls and does everything necessary to exclude any leaks which would help the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Primakov said (Ha’aretz, Russian agencies, March 22). It is a line likely to be heard again this week during the Russian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, where Russian-Iranian military cooperation is again expected to be on the agenda.

Indeed, at least a few Russian commentators suggested yesterday that Primakov’s apparent concessions to Netanyahu were made primarily to brighten the prospects for success during the Russian leader’s upcoming talks in Washington. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has also been accused in recent days of conducting his trip to Moscow with an audience in mind. Political commentators in Russia and Israel each suggested that Netanyahu visited Moscow at least in part to increase his popularity among the 700,000 former Soviet Jews who will be eligible to vote in Israel’s May elections (International Herald Tribune, Ha’aretz, March 22).