For all its attractiveness, the memorial at Netanya—which is the first memorial to the Red Army to be constructed since the fall of the Soviet Union—is a curious object. Putin is always amenable toward events that burnish the reputation of the U.S.S.R., as Netanyahu knew well when he proposed the monument two years ago. But given the cruel oppression of the Jews by the Soviets, a history Netanyahu also knows well, it might seem a bizarre project. The fact is, however, that over the last three years Israel and Russia have quietly been forging closer ties, a process that included Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow during which he first mentioned the monument and has culminated in Putin travelling to Israel to see it.
Strange bedfellows they certainly are, and Putin and Netanyahu may not be personally simpatico, but that is hardly the point. They are both pragmatic politicians who have clear and simple bottom lines: in Putin’s case, the return of Russia to superpower status, and in Netanyahu’s, the preservation of the state of Israel. The monument at Netanya symbolizes the intersection of these lines, as Russia sees an opportunity to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the United States, while Israel, concerned at the steady erosion of American engagement in the Middle East, sees a new, albeit unlikely, source of support. [Read more]