Iranian clerics watch the firing of a Shahab-3 missile during a war game in a desert near the city of Qom.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin was right when he respectfully told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop living in the past.
Putin’s comments were made in response to an attempt by Netanyahu, during a one-day visit in Moscow, to tie present-day tensions between Tehran and Israel to the events of Purim.
The story told in the Megila took place “in the fifth century BC,” noted Putin. “We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now.”
Indeed, the world is a very different place today. Unlike in the time of Mordechai and Esther, when Jews lacked political sovereignty and military might, and they had to rely on the largesse of the nations of the world and on quixotic leaders such as Ahasuerus.
But while the prime minister might have failed to convince Putin of the relevance of ancient Persian history to contemporary events, he was right to prioritize the Iranian threat to Israel.
That is important, as the international community – and in particular the US, Russia, Turkey and Arab states – work toward an arrangement for Syria that will put an end to the civil war there.
Israel and Russia have cooperated in the past to advance their respective interests. The sharing of intelligence and open communication between the two countries have prevented incidents like Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane on its border with Syria in November 2015.
According to foreign media reports, Russian warplanes have operated over the Golan Heights against forces opposing the Assad regime, and Israel has carried out air strikes within Syria to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from smuggling arms to Lebanon.
Continued cooperation with Moscow is important as a means of curtailing Tehran’s influence in Syria.
That was Netanyahu’s message to Putin during their meeting in Moscow on Thursday. The concern in Jerusalem is that the Russian-backed Assad regime’s victory over ISIS-affiliated forces will pave the way for Iran, Assad’s other ally, to fill the vacuum created by ISIS’s departure to gain a lasting foothold in Syria. An Iranian front on Israel’s northern border – and not just via its Hezbollah proxy – would be a strategic nightmare for the Jewish state.
And there is a good chance Netanyahu found Putin to be attentive to Israel’s concerns. While it has coordinated extensively with Iran as part of the campaign to protect its interests in Syria, Russia likely does not relish seeing Iran build up military forces and infrastructure and even a naval base in Syria. Russian cooperation with Iran during the civil war does not preclude cooperation with Israel in preventing Tehran from remaining a dominant force in Syria.
The prime minister’s push to shift international focus to Iran is also important now as the Trump administration formulates its policy for the region. Last Monday, Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump spoke by phone “at length”
about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
On the same day, Netanyahu said that 80% of Israel’s “fundamental security problems” stem from Iran
, speaking during a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which the Islamic Republic orchestrated.As noted by The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon
, the prime minister’s renewed efforts to put the Iranian threat on top of the US’s agenda came after Trump’s inauguration, which ushered in an administration with an instinctively more hard-line approach to Iran than that of the Obama administration.
Netanyahu believes that there is a unique opportunity now to enlist US support, and to a lesser degree British and Australian support, for ensuring that Iranian violations of the nuclear deal are punished. He also hopes to curtail Iran’s conventional capabilities, which are not addressed in the nuclear deal.
Iranian mullahs’ threats to “wipe Israel off the map” might be reminiscent of the genocidal machinations of the historical Haman. But much has changed in two millennia.
Today Jewish sovereignty empowers the Jews to take control of their fate. Jews are no longer dependent on the grace of host countries like ancient Persia for their well-being.
They can bring to bear international diplomacy and the leveraging of military might. Netanyahu’s prioritization of the Iranian threat as the geopolitical map shifts is a living example of the radical change in Jews’ standing in the world.