Is Russia on the way to becoming an Israeli ally?
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
May 30, 2012
In an intriguing Haaretz article entitled “Russia and Israel: The unexpected alliance,” Adar Primor comments on two recent analyses which suggest that such an alliance may be on the cards:
Prof. Mark Katz of Virginia’s George Mason University recently wrote a piece entitled “What would a democratic Russian foreign policy look like?” in the New Zealand International Review. He concludes that Russia’s foreign policy wouldn’t change substantially, with two exceptions: China and the Middle East.
Katz expects a significant warming of relations between Moscow and Jerusalem, for several reasons: Israel has become an important source of military technology for Russia, both countries are concerned about radical Islam, and extensive cultural, trade and tourism links have been forged.
Fyodor Lukyanov, a veteran Russian commentator, wrote a piece in response to Katz entitled, “Is Israel on the way to becoming a Russian ally?” In the article for Russia Today, Lukyanov sees no reason to wait for a democratic Russia to support Katz’s assumption.
First, the Arab world’s deep antagonism toward Russia during the Arab Spring puts it in a new position. Second, both Russia and Israel oppose democratization in the Middle East because both believe it will lead to Islamization in the region and beyond. Third, Israel, as a high-tech powerhouse, can help Russia with the modernization it so badly needs.
And here are the two most interesting points in Lukyanov’s analysis: Paradoxically, he says, if Israel attacks Iran (in a clear contradiction of Russia’s declared policy ) it may remove the main dispute between Moscow and Jerusalem from the agenda. Finally, the rising calls in the United States claiming that its “Israel first” policy limits America’s strategic maneuvering may lead the United States to change its diplomatic priorities – in which case Israel might seek to diversify its stable of allies as well.
Reports that Putin has decided to make Israel one of his first foreign destinations after being sworn in has of course contributed to the debate. Former Israeli ambassador to Russia Zvi Magen has written that the Middle East has once again become an arena of competition between Russia and Western powers, and that Moscow seeks to enhance its relationship with Israel – in part to blunt the growing assertiveness of Turkey, which sees the Caucasus as its backyard.
The Turkish threat, he says, and the gas fields recently discovered in the eastern Mediterranean are behind a Russian initiative to establish a bloc with Israel, Cyprus and Greece. An alliance between Moscow and Jerusalem could become “a new factor of influence in this unstable region during a time of great uncertainty,” Magen concludes.