May 7th 2016

Russia and Israel’s Middle East Dance

by Daniel Wagner

Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a Connecticut-based cross-border risk advisory firm and author of the book Managing Country Risk. CRS provides a range of services related to the management of cross-border risk. He is also Senior Advisor with Gnarus Advisors.

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

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."