Russia and Israel are natural allies, despite differences
There are deeper reasons for Israel’s tilt toward Moscow.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a regular guest in Moscow, and his visit on Tuesday - the fourth in just nine months - is one of the bricks in a strong, historical Russian-Israeli friendship. Both sides recognize that cooperation is much more beneficial than geopolitical rivalry. The two leaders have succeeded in building mutual trust, which contributes a lot to the general climate between their countries.
The idea of bilateral cooperation may seem strange given that the two sides have many reasons to clash on foreign policy. They differ considerably on Syria, for instance, but not only regarding the conflict there. Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad disturbs Israel in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, because he considers the Golan Heights Syrian territory.
Russia has delivered S-300 air-defense systems to Israel’s number-one enemy Iran. Moreover, Israel staunchly opposes the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions from Iran, to which Moscow has contributed considerably.
Russia is also actively developing ties with Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia, changing - however slightly - the regional balance of power, and in a sense complicating geopolitics. Moscow has significantly degraded relations with Turkey following the latter’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet, while Israel is actively negotiating with Ankara.
However, although Israel is considered part of the West, it did not join in anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Western countries in response to Moscow’s policies toward Ukraine and Crimea. Israel’s position has been one of neutrality.
Netanyahu has met Russian President Vladimir Putin much more often than he has met the U.S. president. The reason is not geographic proximity. The United States is withdrawing from the Middle East after 50 years of a strong and stable presence. Countries are seeking alternative guarantees of safety, and in the search for a relevant ally, Israel is drifting toward Russia.
Netanyahu said more than 1 million Israelis speak Russian, and Israelis are exposed to Russian poetry, culture and literature. However, there are deeper reasons for Israel’s tilt toward MoscowMaria Dubovikova
In his interview with a Russian journalist, Netanyahu said more than 1 million Israelis speak Russian, and Israelis are exposed to Russian poetry, culture and literature. However, there are deeper reasons for Israel’s tilt toward Moscow.
Russia has succeeded in establishing stable relations with counterparts from conflicting camps. This makes of Moscow a perfect negotiator. Its assistance is significant in Israeli-Palestinian talks, but admittedly no matter who is mediating, everything depends on the will of the negotiating sides.
Russia’s regional position is strengthening, and its voice is being attentively heard.
Netanyahu’s statement that Russia is a global power, while Israel is a regional one, reflects Israel’s desire to use its close ties with Moscow to pursue its geopolitical goals in the region. Its friendship with Russia also enables it to force concessions and preferential treatment from its Western allies, as a form of blackmail.
For Russia, its ties with Israel are important both in terms of its regional policies and its ties with the West. Israel has a significant concentration of former Russian compatriots and Russian-speaking citizens. Given that Russia is now using its culture, former compatriots and Russian-speaking people as a form of soft power, in a sense Israel is a natural ally.
Netanyahu’s visit was followed by that of the Palestinian and Jordanian foreign ministers. There is no link or suspicions between these visits. They clearly illustrate what Faisal Abbas, editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English, said in his latest column, that Russia “has recently re-emerged as a global power broker, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.” It is logical for Israel to try to be close to such a power broker.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme