Netanyahu to meet Putin days before Israel vote

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, just five days ahead of an April 9 Israeli general election, the premier’s office said.

Netanyahu has held a series of meetings with foreign leaders in the run-up to the vote, helping him further his argument that he is Israel’s irreplaceable leader.

His office did not provide further details in its brief statement on the meeting on Tuesday.

Israel and Russia coordinate their military activity in Syria to avoid accidental clashes.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria.

It has pledged to keep its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the neighboring country.

In the civil war that erupted in Syria in 2011, Russia has been backing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces alongside Iran and Tehran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.

A friendly fire incident in September that led to Syrian air defenses downing a Russian plane during an Israeli raid angered the Kremlin, which blamed Israel.

Netanyahu and Putin held their first extensive face-to-face discussions since the friendly fire incident in Moscow on February 27.

The two have spoken repeatedly by phone in recent months, including on Monday.

The Israeli premier is currently hosting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who arrived in Israel for a three-day visit on Sunday.

He also recently hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and last week met US President Donald Trump in Washington.

Netanyahu is facing a tough election challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.