'Israel's lobbying efforts to stop S-300 missiles shipment to Syria were not in vain'

Elkin: Huge Russian-speaking population in Israel gives Putin the feeling Israel is "potential ally" on many issues.

June 30, 2013 16:46
3 minute read.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin.

Ze'ev Elkin 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Russian President Vladimir Putin understands and is more receptive to Israel’s positions than his Foreign Ministry headed by Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week.

Elkin, who accompanied Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he met Putin in May to explain Israel’s opposition to the Russian delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, said the Russians “understand” Israel’s position on the matter, “especially if you talk about the president [Putin], and not the Foreign Ministry.

There are some different tones from the presidency and the Foreign Ministry on this matter.”

Elkin was interviewed last week by the Post during the run-up to his anticipated election Sunday night as chairman of the Likud’s Ideological Committee, the party’s body mandated to hash out policy on a wide variety of issues.

While saying that Israel’s efforts lobbying the Russians against the delivery of the S- 300s were “not in vain,” Elkin said he could not say whether these efforts would be crowned with “100% success.”

“It is unequivocal that Putin understands us better than Lavrov and the Foreign Ministry,” Elkin said. “That doesn’t mean he will give us what we want. He will act according to what he thinks are his and Russia’s interests at the time. No one acts according to our interests; everyone looks after their own interests.”

Asked whether Putin was at all influenced positively toward Israel by the presence here of more than a million Russianspeakers who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, Elkin – who is one of those immigrants, having come to the country in 1990 from the Ukraine – said Putin obviously acted according to Russia’s interest.

That being said, Elkin added that the presence of such a large number of Russian-speakers in the country gave Putin the sense that Israel was “not an enemy state, but rather a potential ally for many things and processes, and a possible interlocutor.”

The deputy foreign minister added that the phenomenon of government leaders having a more favorable inclination to Israel than their foreign ministries was something that could be seen around the world, and over time. A case in point, he said, was the US State Department’s objection to recognizing Israel in 1948, while US President Harry Truman was in favor and swiftly recognized the country soon after former prime minister David Ben-Gurion declared independence.

“Foreign ministries in every state are more pro-Arab [then their governments’ leaders], Period,” Elkin said.

Foreign ministries have to weigh various interests and look over their shoulders at the next vote in various international forums, often concluding it is more worthwhile taking into account the Arab position rather than the Israeli one.

However, state leaders are generally driven more by “ideological reasons” that often make them more favorable to Israel, he explained.

Regarding Putin’s Syrian policies, and Moscow’s unwavering backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Elkin explained that the Russians “are known for their position of supporting their allies until the end, or almost until the end. They are very different from the US in that position.”

Elkin, stressing that this was his own personal assessment, said Moscow’s firm backing of Assad was an attempt to show that “it is worth being their ally, and that they do not throw their allies away during a time of crisis.”

Even if the ally they back eventually falls, Elkin said the Russian equation was that others will see this loyalty and believe it worth linking up with Moscow in the future.

Elkin said that moral considerations, or Russian public opinion, regarding the events taking place in Syria is not a concern for the Kremlin. The West was not completely pure, he said, when it came to moral considerations as an underpinning of policy, opting to act against immoral acts in one location but not in another when it might be less comfortable to do so. Elkin continued by saying the West was still more influenced than Moscow “by public opinion about what is happening [in Syria], and the morality of the regime.”

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