Netanyahu ‘Optimistic’ as Russian Media Report Possible Breakthrough in Talk to Release Jailed Israeli

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was "optimistic" after discussing the release of an Israeli woman jailed in Russia over drug trafficking charges with President Vladimir Putin, amid Russian reports of a breakthrough in talks.

Twenty-six-year-old Naama Issachar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for possession of 9.6 grams of hashish during a layover in the Moscow Airport. Her high-profile imprisonment was seen as a bargaining chip in efforts to prevent the extradition of Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov, who was held in Israel but turned over to the United States in November. 

Burkov plans to plead guilty to some charges against him in federal court this month, thus changing his original statement, his lawyer, Greg Stambaugh, meanwhile told the TASS news agency. The IT specialist was arrested in Israel in 2015 for extradition to the United States on charges related to widespread credit card fraud. 

In October, before Burkov's extradition, Haaretz reported that Russia had pressured Israel multipe times to release him in exchange for Issachar. 

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement Thursday that the conversation between Netanyahu and Putin "was warm and practical, strengthening the premier's optimism" that the release of Naama Issachar is near. 

Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court, December 19, 2019.AFP

However, in a statement released by the Kremlin after the two leaders spoke, there was no mention of the Issachar affair.

"The conversation covered a number of topical matters of Russian-Israeli cooperation in the context of the Russian President’s upcoming visit to Israel later this month to attend commemorative events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Both parties underscored the importance of preserving the historical truth about the events of World War II and the unacceptability of revising its results," the Kremlin said in a statement.