Israel and Russia: A Delicate Balance

Whereas for Russia Syria is not even what they call “the near abroad” – the former republics of the USSR which constitute a potential defence cordon around the homeland – for Israel Syria is and always was a threatening neighbour. Thus, as they say, when push comes to shove, the Israelis will always go further towards outright military confrontation in Syria than will the Russians: for the simple reason that they cannot afford to back down, whereas the Russians will always have a choice, even if at the cost of serious embarrassment. And one does not have to read much between the lines to see the genuine admiration of the Russians for both Israeli will power and Israeli military related technologies: a worthy adversary, indeed the best of enemies.

Whereas the Egyptians – who have always had other fish to fry – came and went as a threat to Israeli security, the Syrians came and never left. Once the ayatollahs overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1978-1979, Israel acquired another dangerous adversary; dangerous not in terms of military capability (until very recently) so much as in the zeal of militant Islam. The collapse of Syria as a coherent state could have been seen as an enormous opportunity for Israel in removing the longstanding enemy as an overarching threat to Israeli security, acting directly and indirectly through Hezbullah and the Lebanon. In comparison, even the presence of Russian forces in Syria, though not exactly reassuring, heralded no serious implications for Israeli security while they were weighed down propping up a failed régime. However, once Iran plunged in and sought its own sphere of influence in Syria, while simultaneously helping themselves to the basket case of American-occupied Iraq, Israeli anxieties multiplied.

As a result, a kind of tacit complicity evolved in Syria between Russia and Israel – the kind that President Putin intuitively understands – that has become more explicit now that the Iranians seek a more belligerent defence of their position and a more assertive role in underwriting the crippled Assad régime. Most recently, on 8 July the chief of the Iranian general staff visited Damascus to sign a military co-operation agreement. It is the Iranian intention to introduce more deadly air defence systems into Syria to target incoming Israeli aircraft on bombing missions that Russian supplied air defence either cannot or will not prevent. This led to an urgent telephone conversation on 17 July between the Defence Ministers of Israel and Russia. Benny Gantz insisted to Shoigu that the introduction of new Iranian air defence equipment into Syria is unacceptable.

This forces on Moscow more unpleasant choices that it could well do without. Sustaining and developing the special relationship they have with the Iranians in order to spite the United States is not cost free; neither is the need to keep the Israelis from lashing out further in Syria. Putin must be having a rather busy weekend.

23.07.2020 21:06:00

Израиль предупредил Россию о новых рисках в Сирии

Тегеран и Дамаск расставляют сети для авиации ЦАХАЛ