Russian forbearance has long been key to Israel’s being able to mount the surgical airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian military bases adjacent to the Israeli-Golan which have kept those two rogue nations in line. Not only does Russia have a military presence in the area, it also has a lethal anti-aircraft capacity blanketing it which remains silent if Israel notifies that its planes are coming.
Why this modus vivendi has developed given Russia’s close ties to Syria and Iran is not all that clear but it is known that Russia has tried to cultivate ties with Israel and actually values it as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. It is also known that Russia has some serious differences with both countries, particularly with Iran and its pursuit of a nuclear capacity.
But now it appears the geopolitical fallout from Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine may unravel the relationship. Whereas former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took a diplomatic middle path and was very cautious about Israel’s role in the newly emergent Western lineup against Russia – he even offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine – Yair Lapid, his interim successor, has been more full-throated in his criticism of Russia.
So, President Putin’s trip last week to Teheran – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogen also attended – and similar efforts to garner international support for countering the Western moves took on added meaning for Israel. This is especially so in the light of the recent, apparent Russian plan to end the roles of several Russian-Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Agency in Russia, which handles emigration to Israel.
The organizations have been told that they may soon be designated foreign agents and will no longer be permitted to operate in Russia.
Also, until recently while Russia hadn’t intervened after Israeli strikes in Syria it has generally criticized them, albeit relatively mildly. However, Russia was more sharply critical after the most recent strike on Damascus International Airport than it had been.
To be sure, according to the Jerusalem Post, Russia understands that Israel will not stop air strikes in Syria because they are vital to its national security and Russia hardly needs a confrontation with Israel while still engaged in a difficult war with Ukraine. Nevertheless, Iran could also force one on the Russians as a condition of its support against the new Western alignment.
Time will soon tell whether the picking and choosing triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine will upend Israel’s delicate relationship with Russia on the Golan. We hope that Putin already appreciates that Israel is the rising economic and technological star in town and is also not Russia’s adversary regardless of its relationship with the United States.