May 7th 2016

Russia and Israel’s Middle East Dance

by Daniel Wagner

 

Daniel Wagner is the founder and CEO of Country Risk Solutions and a widely published author on current affairs and risk management.

Daniel Wagner began his career at AIG in New York and subsequently spent five years as Guarantee Officer for the Asia Region at the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington, D.C. After then serving as Regional Manager for Political Risks for Southeast Asia and Greater China for AIG in Singapore, Daniel moved to Manila, Philippines where he held several positions - including as Senior Guarantees and Syndications Specialist - for the Asian Development Bank's Office of Co-financing Operations. Prior to forming CRS he was Senior Vice President of Country Risk at GE Energy Financial Services. He also served as senior consultant for the African Development Bank on institutional investment.

Daniel Wagner is the author of seven books: The America-China Divide, China Vision, AI Supremacy, Virtual Terror, Global Risk Agility and Decision Making, Managing Country Risk, and Political Risk Insurance Guide. He has also published more than 700 articles on risk management and current affairs and is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post, Sunday Guardian, and The National Interest, among many others. (For a full listing of his publications  and media interviews please see www.countryrisksolutions.com).

Daniel Wagner holds master's degrees in International Relations from the University of Chicago and in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Richmond College in London.

Daniel Wagner can be reached at: daniel.wagner@countryrisksolutions.com.

Russia and Israel have a long history of diplomatic and military collaboration in the Middle East, dating back to the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, when Israel’s triumph over its neighbors was largely attributable to Moscow’s military support. Following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Israel established itself as a key U.S. ally, as the Soviet Union partnered with a host of Arab nations -- most importantly, Syria. Yet, despite their history of having been on opposite sides for much of the Cold War, since the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian Federation has pursued an increasingly pragmatic foreign policy with Israel.

As Russia reasserts a robust footprint in the tumultuous Middle East, the state of Russian-Israeli relations is naturally complicated, but it is arguably true that the bilateral relationship has never been stronger. In 2005 Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first Russian leader to visit Israel. Putin has since referred to Israel as a ‘special state’ to Russia, based on their shared interests and long collaborative history. The foundation the two nations have established is being tested, as their positions on Iran and Syria weigh heavily on their ability to move forward collaboratively.

Russia’s growing coordination with Iran and Hezbollah on the Syrian battlefield has made more complicated Israel’s views of Putin’s agenda in the Middle East. Although an important player in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, Russia is also now in the process of providing S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran. Russia and Iran’s common cause in the Levant is increasingly at odds with Israel’s stance on numerous issues. While Moscow and Tel Aviv remain committed to their cordial relationship, they are also finding it increasingly difficult to justify prioritizing that relationship at the expense of their grander regional strategic objectives.

Russia’s support of President Bashar al-Assad is not necessarily an issue for Israel. The Israeli government appear to prefer that Assad’s regime survives, given the risks of Islamist extremists seizing control of Damascus and/or large swathes of territory near Israel and the Golan Heights. What is potentially a real problem for Israel, however, is the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has sent to Syria. If these were either successfully provided to Hezbollah for its use, or if Russia were for some reason chose to use them against the Israeli air force, Israel’s strategic advantage against Hezbollah would be severely compromised. This subject was no doubt discussed when Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April.

Moscow views Hezbollah as a more effective fighting force against the Islamic State (and other Sunni Islamist extremists) -- fighting in tandem with the Syrian Arab Army and elite Iranian forces. Putin’s dilemma is to increase Assad’s chances of continuing to retake lost ground and remaining in power while maintaining the status quo between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel is very sensitive about the risk that the Golan Heights would be overtaken by Hezbollah or other Islamic extremists, and it remains on constant alert regarding Hezbollah’s ongoing receipt of weaponry from Iran. Israel has repeatedly attacked convoys suspected of delivering heavy weaponry to Hezbollah and will no doubt continue to do so – especially if it suspects that S-400s or similar weapons are among them.

Mr. Netanyahu must continue a delicate diplomatic dance – maintaining good relations with the Russians without further alienating the U.S. -- an issue that will outlive Barack Obama’s presidency. The same may also be said about Mr. Putin: eventually, he will presumably want a warmer relationship with the U.S. When that time comes, what compromises will he need to consider vis-à-vis Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Israel in order to achieve that objective? At this juncture, Putin holds many cards, and both the Americans and Israelis know it.

But by the same token, either Russia or Israel has the ability to disrupt the existing status quo with respect to Syria and Iran, because either could choose to ramp up their military engagement in a variety of ways. Russia may do so by sending its armed forces back into Syria at will, by directly arming Hezbollah, or by arming other Iranian proxies elsewhere in the region. Israel may do so by choosing to become directly engaged in Syria, by re-engaging Hezbollah in Lebanon (or Syria), or in the longer term, making good on its threat to bomb Iranian nuclear sites – particularly if Iran were to make egregious violations of the P5+1 Agreement without any meaningful penalty from the West -- or if the Agreement were to expire and Iran were to ramp up its nuclear program. Any of these actions would serve to significantly disrupt the status quo ante in the Middle East.

While Israel will never have the 'special relationship' with Russia that it does with America, the two nations clearly have some similar objectives, such as not wanting the reach of Islamic extremist groups to spread, and keeping Mr. Assad in power (at least, until such time as there is viable non-extremist alternative). Mr. Putin must also realize that while Hezbollah serves an important objective in the near term in Syria, it cannot be in Russia’s long-term interest for Hezbollah to gain a permanent foothold in Syria – something Iran surely would like to see. In that regard, Mr. Putin is playing a dangerous game, and, from the Israeli perspective, equally dangerous by delivering missiles, rockets, and other types of weaponry to Hezbollah, which can be used against Israel.

It would be in Moscow and Tel Aviv’s long-term interest to coordinate their movements and align their long-term objectives. In the end, they will find that they may have more in common geo-strategically than differences. With the latest round of peace talks in the process of failing, and the fighting ramping up again in Syria, now is a good time for the two countries to re-assess where they are going, and how they are going to get there. Iranian influence in Syria is unlikely to be part of the long-term mix for either of them. For that reason it would be better for Mr. Putin to establish some boundaries vis-à-vis Tehran in Syria that are also in accordance with Israel’s objectives. Otherwise, things will get even messier, and the foundation of their bilateral relationship could be at risk.


This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.



Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and co-author of the forthcoming book “Global Risk Agility and Decision Making” (Macmillan, May 2016).

For Country Risk Solutions' web site, please click here.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt




  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "For citizens of states that are members of NATO, taking all possible steps, short of all-out war, to ensure that Russia does not conquer Ukraine is not even an altruistic sacrifice. It is a long-term investment, for themselves and their children, in freedom, democracy, and the international rule of law."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
EXTRACT: "People’s identification with the Soviet Union appears to have a clear and growing basis in Russian public opinion. Surveys we have conducted throughout the Putin period show that Soviet identification among the general population – something that had been steadily declining after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – began to increase in 2014, when the Russian government annexed Crimea and supported rebellions in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. By 2021, almost 50% of those surveyed identified with the Soviet Union rather than the Russian Federation."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "It may well be that the Russian army’s fate has already been sealed in what is likely to be a long war. The single qualification to this may be that Russia could default to escalation using “weapons of mass destruction” of one form or another – whether tactical nuclear warheads or chemical weapons."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
Apr 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "I don’t even know the little girl’s name. All I do know is what a friend of a friend wrote on Viber: that her relative, a senior nurse in one of Kyiv’s hospitals, “saw in the morgue a child with 20 varieties of sperm on her small body.” Since this information was conveyed in a private conversation, there is no reason to doubt its veracity."
Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, is struggling to export last year’s harvest, and may be unable to produce much this year either. In addition, the war has caused a global fertiliser shortage, which will push up food prices around the world too. Coming at a time when the global pandemic had already increased food insecurity and depleted resources around the world, many countries may not be resilient to a major food crisis brought on by the war. Back-to-back global catastrophic events like this have not happened for close to 100 years." ----- "Another useful analogue is the case of Germany during the first world war. When war broke out in 1914, the German authorities had anticipated a short conflict – not too dissimilar to Russian assumptions a few weeks ago. Just like in Ukraine now, the first world war severely disrupted German farming."
Mar 31st 2022
EXTRACT: "The horrors of World War II – the death camps, slave labor, and inhumane experiments on people – produced a global commitment never to permit such crimes to be repeated. This began a transformation of international politics whereby appreciation of the value of every person’s life and dignity ensured that even most authoritarian governments at least paid lip service to human rights.  ----- But the Soviet Union and many of its successor states, particularly Russia, never internalized this change. More than three decades after the USSR collapsed, most post-Soviet countries are still governed according to the old “imperial” paradigm. So, it should come as no surprise that we are now witnessing a clash between fundamentally different sets of values and ultimate goals for statehood."
Mar 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Referencing past legacies as a justification for present-day political decisions is often effective – such appeals trigger emotional reflexes and contribute to thinking about politics in terms of rivalry and defence. The irony within the tragedy of the current situation is that Putin will assuredly go down in history as the figure that did more to unite the Ukrainian people (albeit against Russia) than any other in recent memory."
Mar 24th 2022
EXTRACT: " Despite the death and destruction that Russia rains down daily on them, the vast majority of Ukrainians are bullish about the future: 77% believe the country is moving in the right direction, 93% think they can beat back Russia, and 47% expect to win in the next few weeks.  Ukrainian policymakers are no less bullish, driving a hard bargain in negotiations with the Russians. Several factors account for this remarkable optimism."