Just one day after President Dmitry Medvedev saw off Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas from Russia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Moscow for talks.
Netanyahu’s visit comes at a time of heightened anxiety over a series of anti-government protests that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East like a storm front, blowing away two governments, while setting the stage for full-blown war in a third.
On Saturday, US warships unleashed a massive missile salvo against Libya’s air defenses in an effort, together with British and French fighter jets, to enforce a no-fly zone between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and anti-government militants holed up in the north of the oil-rich country.
The military response comes on the heels of a UN Security Council resolution that awarded the coalition forces “all the means necessary” to protect civilians.
Moscow, which abstained from the vote, has called for an “immediate end” to the hostilities.
The Libyan showdown between US-led forces and Gaddafi loyalists marks the most severe escalation of violence since the anti-government protests started snowballing in December of last year.
Meanwhile, a lengthy truce between Israel and Hamas, which had been faithfully observed since January 2009, was broken like a cheap vase this week following a series of deadly clashes that will certainly have consequences on the prospects for future talks.
Netanyahu was forced to delay his visit to the Russian capital by four hours
due to an explosion at a bus stop in Jerusalem on Wednesday that left one woman dead and dozens injured.
The victim of the bombing has been identified as Mary Jane Gardner, a British woman who had been studying at the HebrewUniversity.
Observers say the bomb attack may have been in response to an Israeli military strike that missed its target Tuesday, killing three children and their uncle as they played football near their home in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said. Thirteen other family members were reportedly wounded in the incident.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said the army was unaware that civilians were in the area at the time of the strike.
“We never operate when civilians are identified,” she said.
This series of tragic setbacks follow recent mortar and rocket attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip, as well as the March 11 killing of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.
President Medvedev welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow, underlining the importance that an act of terrorism did not prevent the meeting from going forward.
"We are more than right to hold this meeting, as the terrorists must know that they do not achieve their wicked goals," the Russian leader said, while also expressing his condolences for the terrorist attack in Jerusalem, "which harmed innocent people."
Mentioning that Russia is also quite familiar with acts of terror, Medvedev told his Israeli guest that we must strengthen "our determination to combat terrorism together.”
Russia experienced a horrific terrorist attack in January as a suicide bomber detonated himself at the arrivals gate of DomodedevoAirport in Moscow. The blast killed 36 people and wounded dozens.
Medvedev then alluded to the “tectonic shifts" that are underway in the Middle East and North Africa, stressing that it is necessary to evaluate "their influence on the possibility to achieve compromises."
Addressing “tectonic shifts”
"We have much to discuss, because there are many events in the Middle East and North Africa, there are tectonic changes underway that cannot but affect the overall situation, and we, as partners, should discuss them," said Medvedev.
The Israeli prime minister said the international community must not allow the emergence of new radical Islamist regimes, such as the one that exists in Iran.
"The danger for Israel and Russia is that there may appear radical Islamic regimes that will threaten our countries and the whole world," Netanyahu warned. "A regime like this we see in Iran, which utters threats, seeks to achieve nuclear capability and torpedoes all efforts to conclude peace treaties.”
Netanyahu compared the events in the Middle East and North Africa with the devastating natural disasters that struck New Zealand and more recently Japan.
He also mentioned last summer’s wild fires that ravaged northern Israel, which Russian pilots helped to battle.
"Now we must extinguish some more fires, because nobody knows what the events in the Middle East and the Muslim world will end in," the Israeli leader said.
Medvedev then called for reviewing the Middle East peace process, which he described as not progressing in a “positive direction.”
"I have some things to say, I am sure that you will share your views, too, because recently the situation has developed not in a positive direction," the Russian president said. "Let's see how all these events affect the possibility of reaching compromises."
The Middle East Quartet of international mediators which includes Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, will meet on April 15th.
On Wednesday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Moscow where he told his Russian host that he had no objections about meeting with Netanyahu.
At the same time, Abbas said the meeting was not planned to be held in Moscow.
"I have no objections to such meeting. I've met three times with Benjamin Netanyahu since September. We are partners in the peaceful process," the Palestinian leader said.
Middle East Overview
There are presently two schools of thought concerning the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian thaw at this particular juncture in time: The first group believes that the wave of turbulence crashing across North Africa and the Middle East will somehow produce the ideal conditions for a peace settlement. To suggest that mass chaos and even war can act as a catalyst for peace sounds like the greatest leap of faith. After all, the political unrest (which has already swept away Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who was a reliable Israeli partner) only promises to smash the fragile political calculus, potentially setting the talks back light years.
The second group is a much more cynical, albeit realistic, arguing that the crisis provides the Israelis with an opportunity, while international attention is focused on the Arab world, to continue constructing illegal settlements on contested West Bank territory. After all, they say, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has no interest in handing over one square-inch of land to the Palestinians for their future state. He is simply buying time.
Yet the Middle East unrest seems to have prompted a far more disturbing event: a series of attacks on Israeli territory by Palestinian militants, which is certainly the most effective way of killing the hopes for a workable peace agreement.
Moscow hopes that given the present situation in the Middle East, however, Israel will change its uncompromising position on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian settlements, while understanding the danger of postponing that prospect.
"There is a feeling that now, no matter how paradoxical it may seem, the chances are higher to move Israel off its uncompromising positions," presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said on Wednesday.
Israel "could, in particular, agree at a certain stage to a temporary moratorium on the resettlement activity."
"I don't rule out that Israel will modify its uncompromising stance," he added.
"The main thing in the present condition is not to allow the developments (in the Middle East) postpone the Middle East settlement,” Prikhodko said. “And this danger does exist."
The Palestinians have threatened to abandon negotiations with Israel and appeal directly to the United Nations to recognize a PalestinianState within the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel has warned against any “unilateral” methods for ending the protracted standoff, which has been an ongoing international issue since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which ended in a decisive victory for the Israeli side.