NOTE: This is the third in a series of columns about my recent trip to Israel. Next time, more of what Bibi Netanyahu had to say.
Drew and I have been briefed by Bibi Netanyahu many time through the years. We have been in his presence during war and peace. But I have never seen him so relaxed and, yes, even informal.
He began with a story.
It was the day before the Jewish holiday of Passover. A day that in Israel is traditionally the “busiest day of the year” with all of the preparations for the ceremonial meal: The Seder. Even the Prime Minister gets caught up in the family, tradition rich, rituals. But this year, Bibi found himself on his way to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin on urgent business.
So what prompted the unscheduled meeting?
A Russian fighter jet had scrambled to intercept an Israeli jet. This followed on the heels of Israeli jets recently being targeted by Russian jets over Syria, risking a major international incident. Israel did not respond to these aggressive Russian acts militarily; but, Bibi knew he had to get the situation under control.
We know all too well of the multi-layered mess that is Syria today. But what you might not know is there are 14 air forces flying in Syrian skies. 14! That fact alone is cause for worry – mistakes are made all the time.
In September of 2015, a series of top secret meetings took place in Tel Aviv between Russia and Israel. A special mode of communication was set up between the two countries to avert just the type of incidents that had occurred. They even exchanged specially designated, encrypted cell phones. So, did the system fail?
It was time for a face-to-face.
The meeting between the two world leaders lasted for three hours. Bibi made the unscheduled trip with one main goal – to strengthen the security coordination between Israel and Russia so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings and unnecessary confrontations.
With a Cheshire cat smile, he admitted that this was perhaps a ploy by the ever coy Vlad to see how Israel would react and within what timeframe. Vlad, while denying any beforehand knowledge of what occurred, had gained valuable insight into Israel’s intent and reaction times. From Bibi’s perspective, Vlad now knew just how seriously Israel took the infractions.
International politics is an elaborate game of chess. This incident saw two masters of the game playing it out.
I can’t help but wonder what moves a President Trump, Clinton or Sanders would make in this game when an international crisis is at stake. What would they have done if American Jets were threatened by the Russians?
While there are many things that Bibi has said and done with which I do not agree, in this case his cool, rational gamesmanship was masterful. Oh, and he did make it home in time for his family Seder!
Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.