T el Aviv: Russian President Vladimir Putin has set to begin his first Middle East tour in seven years with a trip to Israel.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the continuing crisis in Syria are expected to top the agenda of his talks with Israeli leaders.
Israel and Russia enjoyed strong cultural ties, with Israel home to more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But politically relations remained strained.
Mr Putin returned to the Russian presidency – with responsibility for Russian foreign policy – earlier this year, after four years spent as prime minister.
He will spend a day in Israel, followed by talks in Bethlehemon Tuesday with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday before heading to Jordan, where he will meet King Abdullah.
Mr Putin will attend the official unveiling ceremony of a memorial to the millions of Russian soldiers who died resisting Nazism in World War II.
He will also meet Israel’s Russian-speaking Foreign Minister Avignor Lieberman, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
Mr Putin has said an Israeli military strike onIran’s nuclear sites would be “truly catastrophic”.
But many Israelis accused Russia, which built some Iran’s nuclear facilities, of dragging its feet over the tightening of sanctions against Tehran.
Syria- which buys Russian arms and provides a deep-water Mediterranean port for the Russian navy – is also likely to be discussed.
The Israeli leadership avoided commenting publicly on the crisis.
In 2005, Mr Putin became the first Russian president to visit Israel. He also visited the West Bank and Egypt.