Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced criticism of his foreign policy decisions during his first ever visit to Israel.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government said Putin’s suggestion that he host an international Middle East peace conference in the autumn was “premature”. Then there was the issue of Israeli criticism of Russia’s support for Iran’s nuclear programme- Putin arguing any assistance given was for peaceful purposes. Later the president had to defend Russia’s sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. “I want to tell you this, the systems we are providing to Syria are short-range anti-aircraft systems and do no threaten Israeli territory in any way,” he said. Putin was accompanied by Israeli President Mosche Katzav during much of the trip, which included a visit to the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Kremlin organised the trip as part of what analysts believe is an effort to to widen Russian influence in the Middle East.