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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Foreign Ministry is gradually placing more importance on diplomacy with Russia as the relationship with Washington undergoes a reformulation under the Obama administration.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in his trip to Moscow this week, will try to balance out Israel's overriding reliance on American diplomatic, financial and military support by strengthening its ties to Russia.
The thinking is that while there is no replacing the importance of the strategic ties to Washington, Russia does have a constructive role to play - and since the Kremlin is seeking a renewed role in the region, now is a good time to discuss where Jerusalem and Moscow's mutual interests lie.
Lieberman will chair the first meeting of the Russia-Israel strategic dialogue group, a forum similar to the one former minister Shaul Mofaz headed for many years with American leaders. As with the American model, all issues will be on the table, including Russia's nuclear deal with Iran at the Bushehr plant, the sale and delivery of the advanced anti-aircraft SA-300 system to Teheran, Moscow's stance on sanctions against Iran within the framework of the security council, and the Kremlin's role within the Quartet - especially with its recent warming to Hamas.
In this transition period, Israel's new government finds its relationship with the new American administration somewhat prickly, and it is unclear yet how hard the US will tangle with Israel over the settlement issue. While the Israel-US relationship is in readjustment, there is an opportunity to adjust and deepen Israeli-Russian ties. Moscow is not as concerned with illegal outposts and natural growth in settlements as Washington is, several coalition MKs and Russia experts told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
There is now a government in Jerusalem very favorable to Russia. Several ministers, including Lieberman, Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin, are frequent visitors to Russia and hold regular diplomatic contacts there. At the same time, Moscow is reaching out to its own Diasporas, and Israel has a very large one.
According to some assessments, Russia has no interest in a nuclear-armed Iran, which could foment instability in Russia's restless South, as well as encourage strife within the country's large Muslim minority. An Iranian civilian nuclear program, however, is a veritable cash cow for Moscow, as evidenced by the profitable Bushehr deal. Regarding the SA-300, Russia is waiting to see what Obama offers on the European missile shield issue.
Boris Spiegel, president of the World Congress of Russian Jewry and a member of the Russian Federation Council, says Russia can play a constructive role in the current climate.
Speaking to the Post on Friday, Spiegel, a prominent Jewish oligarch with close ties to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said that when Iran said it wanted to destroy Israel and was getting nuclear capability - "well, under no circumstances should Iran go nuclear. We don't know where the Iranians will take their nuclear capabilities, how they will use it."
Spiegel added that this was well understood in the highest echelons of the Kremlin. According to Spiegel, there is now a much greater understanding in the current Israeli government of Russia's history, and current geopolitical interests.
"It didn't interest them," Spiegel said of some of the top ministers in Israel's former government. "There are now more people in the government who are interested in teaching Russian history to Israeli students - like who really won World War II?"
According to Spiegel's analysis, Russia has no real interest in speaking to Hamas for the sake of speaking, but is doing so because it wants to influence processes in the region.
"Russia knows that an Israeli leader cannot talk to Hamas, but Hamas has to be part of the solution, so somebody has to talk to them. Russia is trying to gain influence by doing this, and it shows, contrary to what is thought here [in Jerusalem], that Russia is even friendlier to Israel. Russia is trying to help," he said.
"Israel says, 'Lavrov can't talk to [Hamas political bureau chief Khaled] Mashaal.' So if Lavrov wanted to please Israel, he would just not speak to Mashaal. But Israel's not speaking to Hamas, and [is] unhappy when Russia speaks to Hamas. So nobody will speak to Hamas, and then what?" Spiegel went on.
Israel "should have destroyed Hamas when you were last in Gaza, but you didn't, and not because the IDF is a bad army. You didn't do it because you didn't want to take responsibility for Gaza if you removed Hamas. So if you don't remove Hamas from Gaza, then you somehow have to deal with Gaza. And if you don't talk to them, somebody else has to," he said. "So when Lavrov talks with Hamas he's not talking against Israel. He's talking in the service of peace. He tells Hamas that it is wrong to kill innocent people, it's wrong to fire rockets and cities - these things are terrorism."
For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs