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The mystery of Russia’s wooing of Israel

April 10, 2019 at 3:37 am

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during their talks at the Kremlin on 27 February 2019 in Moscow, Russia [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]

The United States is giving Israel a surplus of endless gifts, including financial gifts, weapons, and security gifts, as well as real estate property, recently, is all a normal part of American policy and the policy followed by the Republican and Democratic administrations alike. It is also normal for the global superpower to give its strategic ally in the Middle East what it needs to achieve military superiority over all of its neighbours. This is because both sides have extraordinary mutual interests and relations that are too long to explain and list in this article.

However, for the Russian Federation, which prides itself of being another international pole, to show this level of wooing and courtship to America’s spoiled stepdaughter in the region is a mystery that raises some eyebrows. This is especially given the fact that Moscow presents itself as a global superpower that should be courted itself and feared, even by Europe in its entirety. This has made the situation difficult for us to understand and rejected by many, especially the resistance axis, which is confused between Soviet Moscow and Putin’s Moscow.

US to recognise Israel sovereignty over Golan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

US to recognise Israel sovereignty over Golan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The basic relationship between Russia and Israel has been the subject of endless questions since President Vladimir Putin stepped foot in Syria at the end of 2015. These hybrid relations became a questioned matter that surprised everyone more than ever when the Israeli air strikes increased, and Israel violated all of Syria’s territory during that time. However, Russia’s suspicious disregard and overlooking of this was justified, as the air strikes only targeted the presence of Iran and its allies. Meanwhile, the members of the resistance axis hesitantly expressed their tolerant positions towards Moscow.

This exaggerated Russian niceties towards Israel remained the same. It wasn’t talked about or brought up in debates until the Ilyushin intelligence aircraft was shot down last year. This caused the atmosphere surrounding the relations to become tense, as they both have contrasting agendas in Syria, as a wave of silent anger emerged in Moscow that quickly disappeared for some reason. The Israeli air strikes resumed and spread from the suburbs of Damascus to the northern part of Aleppo, amid complete Russian silence. This silence indicated content with the targeting focused on Iranian sites.

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Moreover, the new scene of this complex Russian-Israeli relationship, and by this, I mean handing over the remains of an Israeli soldier from Damascus to Tel Aviv, through Moscow, was outrageous and shocking to all concerned, including the Assad regime itself. He had said he did not know anything about the matter (contrary to Putin’s claims). This makes matters worse and raises questions about the meaning of Putin’s gift, its implications, significance, price, and timing, which coincides with Trump’s gift of the Golan Heights. It is as if the two strongest forces in the world are competing to see who can be the most generous towards Israel, and the keenest to have Netanyahu win in the Knesset elections.

According to strict objective criteria, Israel should have been a party to woo Russia and should be wary of provoking the anger of a superpower nuclear force in the world. It must avoid the wrath of a hostile neighbour, not the opposite. The small country, haunted by existential anxiety, seems to have the upper hand now and is being wooed in the manner Putin did when he gifted the Merkava tank from Sultan Yacoub to Netanyahu about two years ago, and then celebrated the return of its drivers’ remains in a funeral fit for senior officials.

I believe that the price some claim Netanyahu paid Putin in exchange for this gift was not enough to justify his actions, as he humiliated his ally Al-Assad, separated himself from his Iranian partner, and embarrassed those gloating about the Russian Abu Ali. The gift was valuable and expensive, and therefore the return must also be valuable. It is most likely to be Israel refraining from insulting Russia’s pride and offending the Russian tsar by destroying the pride of Russian aircraft on the Syrian coast, i.e. the S-300 anti-aircraft system that has not yet been tested. This is even though Moscow has tested all of its new weapons.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 9 April 2019

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