Israel – between the US and Russia

Source: Israel – between the US and Russia – Israel Hayom

Zalman Shoval

Let there be no mistakes, Israel is identified and identifies itself with the United States insofar as the fundamental, value-based nature of their relationship and their shared predominant interests are concerned.

Unlike the Non-Aligned Movement in its time, Israel does not “sit on the fence” when it comes to its relationships with America and Russia. Policy and diplomacy, however, are not a zero-sum game, and the interests Israel shares with the U.S. do not come at the expense of its shared interests with Russia. At the very least, there is minimal conflict.

As the saying goes, why choose when you can have both. Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be the first prime minister since David Ben-Gurion to take a comprehensive view of Israel’s relationships with the world, friends and enemies alike, rather than strictly through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his opinion, Israel must always try to find ways to advance its diplomatic, security and economic objectives while heeding the realities of a world where past conventions are mired in ever-expanding processes of evolution and change – for better and for worse.

Netanyahu saw, for example, that despite the small differences, there is no inherent contradiction between the American interest in stabilizing the situation in Syria while curbing Iran’s geopolitical aspirations, and the Russian interest in limiting its alliance with Iran to specific goals, rather than broadening that alliance into sweeping support for all of the Islamic republic’s belligerent and hegemonic goals. Russia has not forgotten the trauma of its disastrous embroilment in Afghanistan, which in President Vladimir Putin’s mind was one of the factors that led to the Soviet Union’s collapse. Therefore, he will do everything in his power to make sure Syria does not become another Afghanistan. This directly impacts Israeli-Russian relations.

Netanyahu was able to realize, then, the importance of cultivating good relations with Putin’s Russia – parallel, not in contrast, to Israel’s intimate relationship with Trump’s United States, and acted accordingly. Israel, for example, sees Iran’s ongoing presence in Syria and Lebanon, whether directly or through its various proxies, as a severe security threat that must be eradicated before it spreads. That is why Israel has acted on several fronts – covert and overt – to prevent it from happening, likely with Russia’s knowledge.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Israel is acting under a Russian umbrella (or an American one) in this regard. It’s safe to assume, though, that Moscow is sufficiently troubled over the possibility that Iran’s measures and Israel’s countermeasures could drag it diplomatically and perhaps even militarily to a place it does not want to be. Russia was also dubious over Iran’s machinations in Syria. According to reports, an immediate “trigger” for a possible all-out conflagration on the northern border is the intention of Iran and Hezbollah to transfer the bulk of their activity to Lebanese territory, including the manufacturing of precision missiles and other sophisticated weapons.

During his brief visit to Moscow, Netanyahu apprised Putin about these potential scenarios. He did so to avoid any misunderstandings if Israel has to act militarily to disrupt these Iranian plans. The Russian military delegation’s visit to Israel, headed by Gen. Nikolai Patrushev, immediately after Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin, testifies to Russia’s alertness regarding Israel’s concerns and intentions. Moreover, despite the overall increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia these days, on the matter of Iranian activity in Syria and its possible expansion to Lebanon, there is a modicum of alignment between the two powers, and between each of them and Israel.

One final word of note: In international relations, one must tread cautiously. Painting the nature and scope of cooperation between Israel and Russia in such a positive light is not always accurate, particularly when it comes from people who are not in the know. It can even be detrimental to Israel’s relationship with Russia and even the United States.

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