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Why Israel's Netanyahu is visiting Russia and Vladimir Putin

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has commended Moscow's efforts in Syria ahead of his third visit to Russia in less than a year, saying closer ties are a boon to national security and sparking speculation over the depth of countries' relationship.

Netanyahu is making his third visit since September, when Russia launched its military intervention in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during their meeting at the Kremlin on April 21,2016 in Moscow, Russia.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during their meeting at the Kremlin on April 21,2016 in Moscow, Russia.

"Russia is a global power and our relations are getting closer," Netanyahu said Sunday, according to Russian press service RIA Novosti.

"I worked on this rapprochement and today it is serving us, our national security, preventing unneeded and dangerous clashes at our northern border," the Israeli prime minister added.

According to the Kremlin website, Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss bilateral trade and cultural ties, alongside big ticket items like international terrorism, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the ongoing Syrian civil war.

"The Russia-Israel security relationship has been quietly developing for some time now," Daragh McDowell, principal analyst for Europe and Central Asia with Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC by email.

Israel hopes it can use Russia to influence the behavior of some of its less friendly regional foes, including neighboring Syria and Iran, McDowell said. For Russia's part, the country is interested in gaining and maintaining a stronger foothold in the Middle East while puncturing the regional sway of the U.S.

Russia's relationship with Israel is likely to be a thorn in Washington's side. The U.S. and European Union have so far maintained sanctions against Moscow over the annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

But Crispin Hawes, a Middle East specialist and managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC that the move is characteristic of Netanyahu's antagonistic relationship with the Obama administration.

"It's no secret that relations with Obama are very poor, and it's an absolute bonus for Netanyahu to be able to scratch that scar," Hawes told CNBC in a phone interview.

Any economic or trade relationships announced out of Netanyahu's Moscow visit, meanwhile, will be a bigger win for Russia's economy, which has struggled amid Western sanctions and low commodity prices, Hawes said.

Imports from Russia "grew significantly" in 2014, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to total $1.3 billion, up 54 percent from 2013.

Meanwhile, Israeli exports to Russia totaled $965.4 million in 2014, down 6.9 percent from the previous year, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

Jerusalem's attempt to reduce its dependence on energy imports could diminish those trade ties, Hawes said. He stressed that it's unlikely Moscow would ever be able to displace the U.S. as a major partner.

Imports from the U.S. reached a total of $8.2 billion to 14 percent of all Israeli imports in 2014, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

"The reality is that there is no possibility of any other state playing as much of a role as the U.S.," Hawes added, saying Netanyahu will try forge stronger ties with the next U.S. president.