Global Independent Analytics
Joshua Tartakovsky
Joshua Tartakovsky

Location: USA

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Russia Outsmarts Israel in Syria

Things are starting to get interesting when it comes to Israel and Russia.

It seems that Israel is slowly shifting away from the West by and large and gradually and incrementally turning to Russia. It is not doing so because it wants to.  Israel has been spoiled by very generous US aid for decades. Traditionally, Israel has been tied to and subservient to the West, but enjoyed its constant support, while also having its ready ear when it comes to Iraq and Iran. But recently the US has been becoming less and less reliable. Not only have there been clashes between Obama and Netanyahu, but US ambassador to Israel spoke openly against the country, US has been decreasing its defense aid, Israeli F-16s now have trouble upgrading to their latest versions, and Russia is proving itself to be a power to be reckoned with in Syria. 

This is not to say that Israel’s dangerous policy of supporting jihadist groups in Syria is not continuing. It is. And Israel is also keen on weakening the Islamic Republic of Iran since it fears it more - despite the fact that Iran is not just a country but a great civilization – and therefore the former is supporting terrorists in Syria. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon put it in a crude way typical to his close-minded, narrow thinking, personality: ISIS is less dangerous than Iran.  Netanyahu made similar statements in the past. 

Only ignorant people fail to realize that ISIS is demolishing historical remnants of our common history while Iran is preserving them. But Ya’alon belongs to the old-school pro-US camp, did his time in Washington’s think-tanks, and is obsessed about Iran.

Moreover, Israel’s liberal paper Haaretz said Israel should call for Western intervention in Syria in support of “moderate rebels.” That’s a call for regime change, a blood bath, and the de facto imposition of a Sunni caliphate envisioned, in a bizarrely Orwellian language, by John Bolton. There is a general sense among the security elite in Israel that the longer the war is prolonged, the better off they will be as they fear a victory of Assad and having Iran on the other side of the border. What they do not realize yet, however, is that Russia (as well as Iran and Hezbollah) intend to finish the mission and that it would be wiser if Israel would stop supporting terrorism earlier rather than waiting until the last minute.  The victors will not be happy otherwise.

But the world is gradually changing, as difficult as things appear today. And Israel is less arrogant than in the past.

Following Russia’s war against terrorism in Syria, Israel freaked out. Netanyahu rushed to Moscow with three generals but Putin was unfazed. He allowed Israel to strike at Hezbollah but refused to stop the transfer of the S-300 to the Syrian Army (and now also to Iran), and since Hezbollah is a reliable and trusted ally, it also got some of the Russian goods, as frustrated as Israel may have been.

In the mean time, Israel is trying hard to convince Russia to have its way, perhaps by asking it not to fight against Israeli-supported terrorists close to Israel’s border in the south of Syria. It even sent former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, to Moscow. Israel’s President (who occupies a ceremonial position) recently canceled his visit to Australia and will be going to Moscow instead. Australia was not happy.

Israel is used to being in control and it is not comfortable with the new situation where its requests are not followed immediately.  But Russia has chosen a wise strategy. It is not isolating Israel, which would have been counterproductive anyway. Russia wants Israel as an ally. Putin has an excellent relationship with Russia’s Jewish community and wants more Jews to migrate to Russia (50,000 Israelis already reside in Moscow). He maintains friendly and confidential relations with Netanyahu. At the same time, according to some reports at least, Russia has been bombing jihadist rebels in southern Syria located near the Israeli border and the Golan Heights.  This is making Israel nervous.  What will happen if thousands of  Muslim refugees to flee to Israel? Israel does not want to see the defeat of its ally, al Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), and a victory of the Syrian army and Hezbollah that will place the two on the other side of the border. At the same time, it is beginning to realize that a new reality is taking place and that it must adapt to it.

Russia has perhaps found a successful formula in dealing with Israel. Instead of isolating it or ignoring it, Russia wants good relations with Israel, and would most likely welcome it into the Russia-Iran axis. But at the same time, Russia continues to Iran and Hezbollah, despite expressed Israeli fears, and focuses its efforts on bombing the terrorists throughout Syria, rather than talking endlessly.  Putin should continue the policy of not letting go for a second of the goal of defeating terrorism in every inch of Syria - up to the border with Israel. The more Russia carries out this policy, the better, since it will force Israel to change its inclination of supporting jihadists. That is not to say that Israel will realize the folly of its policies of right away. But Russia should continue to meet Israeli officials and extend its hand in friendship while maintaining its vision locked on the target. Israel respects actions more than words, and the Russians have been doing something right.

Most Israelis admire Putin. And the more determined he shows himself to be, the more the likes of Ya’alon will eventually become more pragmatic.

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