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Russia listens to Israeli concerns

That’s what Putin’s recent Helsinki deal with Trump shows

06.08.2018 17:15 Andrew Korybko, political analyst

Russia listens to Israeli concerns
Context:

Maliciously maligned from time to time by the Mainstream Media as an “anti-Semite” because of his country’s pragmatic relations with Iran, President Putin actually proved that he’s the complete opposite. 

President Putin’s been called many things by the Western Mainstream Media, and unfortunately “anti-Semitic” is one of those many slurs that they throw around when trying to discredit him, but the reality is just the opposite, which his recent Israel deal with Trump in Helsinki effectively proves. Not much is known about what the two leaders spoke about during their private two-hour tête-à-tête, but both Trump and President Putin publicly acknowledged that it had to do with ensuring Israel’s security against what can only be presumed is the perceived threat coming from Iranian and Hezbollah forces in southwestern Syria. The public declaration that both of them are on the same page regarding Israel can be cynically interpreted as them establishing a de-facto protectorate over it. 

Last week Russia’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev announced that “we took into account the Israeli concerns, we managed to attain the pullout of Iranian units 85 kilometers [some 53 miles] from the Israeli [-Syrian] border”. Official statements over the past couple of months stressed that Russia couldn’t possibly play a role in this scenario because it would be entirely a sovereign Syrian decision if it ever happened, leading to this development taking many people by surprise.  It shouldn’t have, though, because President Putin has done more for Israel than any other Russian or Soviet leader and should have therefore been expected to relentlessly advance its interests because he envisions Moscow playing a key role in resolving the Palestinian issue through diplomatic means that rely on building solid ties with the Jewish State. 

To bring the reader up to speed, the Soviet Union was the first state to officially recognize the existence of the State of Israel, though the geopolitical considerations that went into this bold move ended up backfiring after Washington took Tel Aviv under its wing and therefore forced Moscow to reactively do the same with its many Arab enemies. Soviet-Israel relations were noticeably strained all throughout the Cold War, and the passing of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 in 1975 declaring the Zionist ideology to be a form of racism was thought to have eternally prevented any meaningful interactions between the two. Amazingly, however, one of the last global diplomatic feats of the USSR was to revoke this very same resolution in December 1991, just weeks before it ceased to exist, and this provided the revived Russian state with a second chance at friendship with Israel. 

In the intervening decades since the Soviet Union recognized Israel’s independence, over one million Russian speakers migrated to the Mideast country, which has proven to be a powerful factor bringing the two parties closer together in the post-Cold War period. Relatedly, the shared memory of suffering that both of them have from World War II, and recalling that approximately half of the Jews that perished in the Holocaust were Soviet citizens, is why Israel recognizes Russia’s semi-sacred 9 May celebration marking the end of this global catastrophe. The interpersonal diplomacy between both sides, driven by Russian-speaking immigrants and the prominent role that some of them have come to have in Israeli society and politics, gave President Putin a firm basis with which to expand his country’s rapidly developing relations with Israel once he entered into office. 

President Putin has been nothing less than a godsend for Israel, lavishing its praises on innumerable occasions officially recorded by the Kremlin website and vowing to enhance multi-sectoral cooperation with it in the humanitarian, economic, and security spheres. It’s well-known that the Russian leader has many powerful Jewish friends who hail from the country’s big business community, and President Putin even revealed that he was practically raised by his Orthodox Jewish neighbors during his early yearsin Saint Petersburg while his parents were busy at work struggling to make ends meet. This provided him with an inside look at one of Russia’s four constitutionally recognized indigenous religions and accordingly afforded him a lifelong appreciation for everything pertaining to it, which apparently seeped into the international political realm as well given his excellent  relations with Israel. 

As proof of their closeness, Moscow recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital almost nine months before the US did though conditional on a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian issue, but this caveat didn’t stop Russian diplomats from celebrating this year’s Russia Day festivities in the Holy City. In addition, President Putin invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his guest of honor for this year’s Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, and he remarked on his guest’s last visit at the end of the World Cup just how much ordinary Russians appreciated seeing the premier march in the Immortal Regiment while holding up the image of a Soviet hero. It’s because of President Putin’s sincere appreciation of the Jewish faith and Israel that he agreed to establish a de-facto protectorate over the Jewish State during his Helsinki Summit with Trump. 

Having explained the background behind this dramatic development, it’s now time to briefly discuss the effect that this unparalleled move might have on Russia’s relations with the Arab countries.  It’s important at this juncture to separate the reaction of the Arab population from their governments because the first-mentioned is strongly against anything that can even be remotely perceived as helping Israel – let alone protecting it from what Tel Aviv alleges is the existential threat of Iranian and Hezbollah forces in southwestern Syria – while the second is for the most part and with few exceptions (Syria, Algeria) silently in favor of normalizing relations with it. Since both outliers are solid Russian partners as it is and the rest of the Arab governments are more or less secretly on excellent terms with Israel anyway, Moscow feels that it only stands to gain by protecting Israel. 

The Arab masses might firmly disagree with Russia’s policy towards Israel, but there’s nothing that they can realistically do to influence it, which is why they’ll be forced to begrudgingly accept it. Their governments, meanwhile, might discretely cheer this development because it could make it all the easier (in a relative sense) to strike a solution to the Palestinian issue, something that Russia earnestly wants to play a role in achieving. Russia envisions its 21st-century grand strategic role as being the supreme “balancing” force in Afro-Eurasia, to which end it’s streamlined fast-moving and full spectrum rapprochements with a variety of non-traditional partners, including Saudi Arabia and especially Israel, both of which are commonly regarded as allies with one another nowadays despite not officially having any relations. Russia is therefore uniquely poised to help bring peace to Palestine because of this. 

The plan that President Putin has in mind is to first stabilize the situation in the Mideast, meaning in practical terms to peacefully resolve the situation in Syria and correspondingly guarantee the security of Israel from what it believes is the existential threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah’s military presence near the occupied Golan Heights. Then, once both of these have been achieved, the second step is to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by taking advantage of Russia’s great relations with both parties in order to encourage them to engage in mutual (if lopsided) compromises, probably in one way or another within some of the framework proposals established by the Trump Administration’s upcoming peace plan, which was probably also discussed during the Helsinki Summit. It doesn’t mean that this approach will succeed, let alone right away, but it’s veritably the vision that Russia is advancing. 

All told, when considering that everything that Russia is doing in the Mideast at this moment is to ensure the security of Israel (recently in open coordination with the US), there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that President Putin is a proud philo-Semite driven by a combination of strategic and deeply personal motivations to see his peacemaking plans in the Holy Land succeed as his ultimate legacy to the rest of the world. 

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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