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Israel’s bias towards Russia against Turkey

December 15, 2015 at 11:54 am

Israel seems to have a bias towards Russia against Turkey as far as the shooting down of the Russian aircraft on the Turkish-Syrian border is concerned. The matter was not only limited to discussion in the media, which gloated at Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s problems with his Russian counterpart.; it has also extended to official statements sympathising with Moscow, which reveal the nature of Russia-Israel understanding. In addition, new alliances in the region have been revealed of which Israel, as usual, is trying to take advantage in order to reap the most possible benefit.

Israel’s incitement against Turkey did not begin with the Sukhoi jet incident, but has been ongoing since the Paris terrorist attacks in mid-November, in which Israel interfered in order to deceive Europe and put itself at the heart of the international fight against terrorism, which includes, of course, legitimate Palestinian resistance to the occupation. The incitement against Turkey exposed Israel’s reluctance to try to reconcile and become closer to the new Turkey, which considers the Palestinian cause as a main factor in the relationship between the two countries. In addition, Tel Aviv believes that it can benefit from Russia’s intervention in Syria in order to achieve its interests without having to pay any price, not even strategic, to Turkey, Syria or Palestine.

This trend of incitement against Turkey and the suggestion that Israel should stop trying to normalise relationships and instead depend on a new alliance with Moscow, became even clearer and more blatant in light of the Russian jet incident. Most Israeli comments on this seem to be similar to the regional media, which is hostile towards Turkey and has said that it has involved itself in a conflict with the Russian bear. The discourse has even reached the stage of betting on Putin to seek revenge against Erdogan and achieve what Israel has been unable to with the Turkish leader, who is demonised in the Zionist state as a stubborn opponent both politically and intellectually.

Putin, on the other hand, is praised in the Israeli media, and a former director of the Mossad spy agency, Efraim Halevy, has described the Russian president as an excellent intelligence officer and stubborn fighter of terrorism (by which he means “Islamic” terrorism). Halevy also pointed out the admiration that Avigdor Lieberman and Ehud Barak have for Putin; they see him as a role model for fighting terrorism and catching terrorists “even if they are on the toilet”.

A somewhat hypocritical Israeli air force officer has claimed that Israel would never shoot down a Russian plane, even if it violated its air space (which has actually happened). According to the director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at Israel’s Ministry of Defence, “Russian air force pilots cross into Israeli air space sometimes, thanks to the excellent security coordination between Israel and Russia.” Understandings between the two sides also allow Israel the freedom to operate to prevent the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, added Amos Gilad.

The picture is completed by Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who pointed out that Russian aircraft have penetrated Israeli airspace; such situations were dealt with calmly and easily. Furthermore, in a statement quoted on Israeli Army Radio on 30 November, Ya’alon explained that Russia’s deployment of S-400 missiles will not affect the freedom enjoyed by Israeli jets in Syrian airspace, thanks to the political-security understanding between the two sides. These statements actually lay out the map of Israeli-Russian understanding and explain why Israel has distanced itself from Ankara and grown closer to Moscow.

Unlike Turkey, Russia does not consider the Palestinian issue to have an impact on its relationship with Israel. During Israel’s 2014 military offensive against the people of Gaza, Russia’s official discourse included an understanding of its “self-defence” in the face of “terrorism”. Moscow also sought implicitly to state that its actions in the Ukraine were similar to Israel’s in Gaza.

This is the opposite of Turkey’s official and popular positions, wherein the Palestinian people are a most beloved nation. This is one of the similarities between old and new Turkey. The former voted against the partition of Palestine in 1947 and lowered the level of its relations with Israel twice in response to events in the Palestine-Israel conflict. The improvement in relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv in the 1990s was a direct result of the Oslo Accords, which gave the impression that a solution was pending and that an end to hostility between Arabs and Israelis was in sight.

On Syria, Israel seemed to be in tune with Turkey in stressing the need to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad’s regime for tactical and beneficial purposes. In fact, Tel Aviv does not mind if Assad’s regime survives, as long as it continues to serve its interests or achieves them. Turkey, however, believes that its interests will be best served by a united, democratic Syria and that will not happen if Assad remains in power.

Israeli’s understanding with Russia is easier, and there is either no price or a very small price to pay. If Russia wants to preserve the Assad regime in order to protect its own interests in a destroyed and divided Syria, then Israel has no problem as long as it does not affect Tel Aviv’s interests or cross its red lines. These include attacking Israel; opening a new front along the occupied Golan Heights; transferring any qualitative weapons or weapons that would shift the balance of power to Hezbollah; and allowing Israel the right to do what it considers appropriate to defend those red lines and interests in general.

Moscow understood Israel’s position and agreed, just as Gilad and Ya’alon declared so openly, to preserve Israel’s interests in Syria, including freedom of the skies and carrying out attacks on Hezbollah targets (and even regime targets).

It is ironic, and a touch surreal, that Tel Aviv has accepted that the skies belong to Russia and the ground belongs to Iran and its affiliated Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese militias, and that Israel has the right to attack any of them whenever it is deemed necessary to its interests. It is also ironic that Tel Aviv has sought indirectly to benefit from the situation in Iraq, where the air space belongs to the US and the ground belongs to the Iranians and its affiliated militias. The price for this is that Israel is being compensated militarily, politically and economically for the US-Iran nuclear deal, while Iraq continues to be torn apart and its development is put back decades.

While taking advantage of the US withdrawal from having “boots on the ground” in the region, Israel is now seeking to benefit from Russia’s blatant occupation of Syria. Successive governments in Tel Aviv have favoured allying with minorities, whether it was with Saad Haddad and the South Lebanon Army in Lebanon, Mullah Barzani and the Kurds in Iraq, or even with the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan. This is perhaps yet another reason for its distance from Ankara, which is slowly but surely planting itself in the hearts of the Muslim majority extending from Malaysia to Tangier.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 14 December, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.