How the Arab Spring pushed Russia into Israel’s lap
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
June 27, 2012
In a June 15 Insight for the Institute for Israeli National Security Studies (INSS) entitled “Russian Policies in an Era of Change,” Zvi Magen observes in relation to President Putin’s visit to Israel:
Russia’s standing in the region was undermined by the Arab Spring, when it lost most of the strongholds it had worked hard and long to construct. Now Russia is finding itself challenged by Islam’s rising power and is feeling isolated in the Arab world.
Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Moscow, goes on to suggest:
In this new reality, it seems that some part of Russia’s interests is also in changing its Middle East policy; the echoes of this discussion on the intra-Russian scene are loaded. Some of the questions on the agenda are the need for an alternative to the radical axis with Russian involvement in the Middle East, which is crumbling before its eyes, as well as the establishment of new levers of influence in this critical area to replace those that have been lost.
Looking at how Israel fits into these developments, the former ambassador claims:
It seems that, in this new reality, Moscow senses that Russia and Israel are in the same boat, allowing the former to view the latter as a desirable partner in the region.
The Arab Spring is not perceived as a positive regional development because it has led to the rise of radical Islam. The Kremlin’s fear is that there may be a spillover effect in the North Caucasus and Central Asia.
President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Israel on Monday might be part of a new Kremlin policy toward Jerusalem. Israel is seen as a prosperous and stable regional power whose interests often coincide with Moscow’s. For example, Israel and Russia have strained relations with Turkey, and both fear the turbulence of radical Islam. Economically, trade between the two countries is growing, as is military and homeland-security cooperation.
Citing Kozhinov’s piece, influential foreign policy commentator Walter Russell Mead adds:
The shared interests of the two countries cover some important ground: they oppose Turkey’s ambition to become a regional hegemon, they distrust the Obama administration’s support of democracy even when that leads to Islamist regimes and they both fear the rise of Sunni Islamism as a dangerous and destabilizing force.
Mead, known to be sympathetic to Israel, also observes:
Putin will find this a refreshing conversation; unlike American diplomats and their talk of universal principles and global order, it’s likely that the Israelis will speak the language of national interests that Putin prefers.
Commenting on Mead’s piece, Zack Beauchamp, writing in the rightwing pro-Israel Tablet Magazine, implies in a somewhat threatening tone that this should make the U.S. think twice before putting any pressure on Tel Aviv:
The unstated implication is that Bibi will find a conversation free of human rights discourse equally refreshing. What this suggests is that Washington’s ability to pressure Israel is directly dependent on the degree to which Israel relies on American financial and political support. Cut Israel off completely and it’ll find new friends, perhaps ones less interested in nudging Israel towards a deal with its Arab neighbors. It’s true that those new friends might not support Israel as fully as the U.S. does, but it’s not clear that this discrepancy would be enough to force Israel to accede to American terms.
In light of these overlapping analyses, it would appear that the Arab Spring has induced Russia to consider a closer relationship with Israel, which would afford Tel Aviv even greater leverage in its “special relationship” with the United States. Despite the much-touted Israeli fears of the winds of change blowing across the region, it appears to have been an ill wind…