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Netanyahu Touts Positive Ties with Russia; Optimistic about Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin, AP file photo

JERUSALEM, Israel – Russia's deputy foreign minister says President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are on excellent terms and speak regularly by phone.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodganov said it was "no exaggeration" that the relationship between the two leaders is at its "highest point ever."

"This year bilateral contacts have been unprecedentedly intense," he said.

Bogdanov drove that point home at a Russian International Studies Association (RISA) conference entitled, "The 10th Convent of RISA: 25 years of Russia's Foreign Policy," hosted by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, TASS reported.

"Russia's leadership places great importance on boosting trade, economic and investment cooperation with Israel," he said. "But unfortunately, turnover statistics are a bit disappointing though Israel remains [one] of Russia's biggest economic partners in the region. Given the unfavorable global economic situation and the strength of the United States dollar in relation to the Russian ruble, in 2015, our turnover with Israel dropped by 31 percent to $2.3 billion. At the same time, we have been constantly working to restore turnover to its previous level."

Israeli and Russian interaction goes beyond economic interests. 

The two leaders met in Moscow shortly after Russian announced its intentions to send fighter aircraft to Syria, prompting Netanyahu to make sure there would be no interference with Israeli sorties to prevent an escalation of tension on the northern border.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the IDF prevented Syria from delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) when it targeted the Mezzeh military airbase west of Damascus last week. Israeli rarely comments one way or the other on airstrikes inside Syria.

Meanwhile, regarding Israel's ties with the U.S., Netanyahu told CBS "60 Minutes” on Sunday he believes that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's support for Israel is clear.

"He feels very warmly about the Jewish state, about the Jewish people. There is no question about that,” the prime minister said.

He also mentioned his differences with President Barack Obama over the controversial 2015 nuclear deal.

“I had differences of opinion with President Obama and most well-known, of course, is Iran," the prime minister told "60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl.

Even so, Netanyahu noted that he had the “greatest respect” for the current commander in chief.

“Suppose we had the greatest of personal chemistry, okay? So, what?” Netanyahu said. “You think I wouldn’t stand up against the Iran deal if I thought, as I did, that it endangers the existence of Israel? Of course I would.”

Netanyahu also said there are "various ways of undoing" the Iranian nuclear deal.

“I think what options we have are much more than you think. Many more,” he noted. “And I’ll talk about it with President Trump. Well, I think quite a few, actually.”

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