Netanyahu assured Putin "I will be back soon" after losing election
Days after being ousted as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu passed a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin promising a quick comeback, a source close to Netanyahu and a European diplomat told me.
Why it matters: Netanyahu and Putin had a close relationship that grew even closer after Russia began its military involvement in Syria in 2015. Netanyahu flaunted that relationship during election campaigns — meeting with Putin days before the 2019 vote and even featuring a picture of the two together on a campaign billboard to emphasize his stature as a statesman.
Behind the scenes: Shortly after Naftali Bennett was sworn in as prime minister on June 13, the Russian ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, visited Netanyahu bearing a personal letter from Putin which described their time working together.
- Netanyahu read the letter and told the Russian ambassador: “Tell President Putin I will be back soon," the sources say.
- Flash forward: Bennett will meet Putin next Friday in Sochi, the Kremlin has announced. This will be their first meeting and will focus on Iran and Syria, according to Israeli officials.
- What they're saying: “We try not to compare Mr. Netanyahu to the current Prime Minister because Netanyahu worked with President Putin for lots of years and they knew each other very well and it takes time to develop new personal relationships," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told i24News.
The state of play: Netanyahu has not been able to destabilize Bennett's government, which appears on course to pass a budget in early November and thus buy itself another 18 months in power.
- Internal dissent is growing in Netanyahu's Likud party, but he remains highly popular with the party faithful and Likud has been ticking upward in the polls while in opposition.