"The way to stopping Iran passes through [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," a senior official in Jerusalem said on Saturday. "The Russians are a game changer ... As soon as Putin wants there to be change, it will happen. However, for now it seems they have no reason to change their conduct."
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers have remained silent ahead of Putin's visit to Israel on Monday, officials believe they plan to ask Putin to drop opposition to heavier sanctions against Iran and Syria.
Sources in the political echelon said Netanyahu was staying quiet before Putin's arrival to avoid upsetting the Russian president.
Putin's visit falls at a time when officials in the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry have been critical of Russia's support for both Syria and Iran. Putin has stood in the way of tougher Western sanctions against Iran and has prevented U.N. military intervention in Syria, amid reports of Russia providing weapons for the "axis of evil" as well.
However, both the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry have chosen not to publicize explicit criticism of Russia's policies in the region to avoid tension with Putin. Political sources doubt that Putin's position can be changed. The Russian president opposes weakening the Iranian regime through sanctions and supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are engaged in the massacre of Syrian citizens.
In Jerusalem, the commonly held view is that after years of dithering, the West has woken up to the Iranian threat — but Russian and Chinese reluctance to support a crippling regimen of sanctions and pressure is emboldening the Iranians, decreasing the chances that they will back down and increasing the chances for an attack of last resort.
“The message [the Russians] will receive is that Israel can’t tolerate a nuclear Iran. Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution, but we will use all means to protect Israel’s survival,” said Yacov Livne, head of the Russia desk at the Foreign Ministry, on Thursday.
“We expect Russia, as a member of the Security Council, to demonstrate responsibility and help to prevent the Iranian nuclear race,” he said. “I think that will be the most important subject, the central subject here next week.”
Upon his arrival in Israel on Monday, the Russian president is slated to go straight to Netanya, where he will attend an unveiling of a monument to commemorate the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany.
He is then scheduled to hold a press conference with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, in Netanya, home to a large Russian population, residents have expressed excitement for the prospect of meeting Putin.
"I'm very excited," said one eager waiter at the Winery Restaurant in the city, following rumors that Putin intended to have lunch there. "To see Putin face to face, and here in Israel, who would have dreamed it? It sounds crazy. But I'm certain that both my mother and grandmother will come to work with me during this shift."