Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) listens to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (back facing) during their meeting in Moscow, Russia,.
(photo credit: MAXIM ZMEYEV/REUTERS)
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, fighting terrorism has become a top priority for the Russian government.
As Putin proclaimed, he would pursue Chechen terrorists everywhere, “even in the outhouse, and will rub them out.”
Since 1970, over 3,500 people have been killed in terrorist attacks within the Russian Federation. Given this, both Israel and the Kurds have great potential to cooperate with Russia since Israelis, Kurds and Russians all are fighting against the radical Islamist threat. However, a major stumbling block to having close Russian-Israeli and Russian-Kurdish relations is that the Russian Federation insists upon close ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The question remains, can Russia be pulled away from the ayatollah’s regime? Reuven Ehrlich, the head of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, doesn’t think so: “They have too much in common. There were tensions in the past but their common interests are stronger. They both support the Assad regime. They are both fighting against jihadist rebel organizations.
They may have differences but they will try to overcome them and to breach the gaps. I don’t think this a reason to separate or to go out of Syria. There may be tensions or differences but nothing beyond it. But of course the Russians should be aware the Syrian scene is very complicated and it becomes more complicated with time.”
Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas has a different take on the situation.
“Russia recognizes the radical Islamist threat. Russia had issues with the Chechens. They have a lot of Islamist groups in the Russian Federation that one day could be exploited by Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. They know that this issue should be addressed.”
However, on the other side of the coin, Russia is cooperating with Iran to preserve the Assad regime in Syria whatever the cost and to keep its warm-water base in Latakia. It is also working with Turkey to create problems for the US in NATO.
According to Abbas, “NATO is adding a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. That is an alarming concern for the Russians.” To address this threat, Abbas emphasized that Russia seeks for Turkey to be pulled away from the other NATO countries: “This is a bargaining strategy for Putin, to give Russia the status of a super-power.”
Abbas argues that the root of the conflict is that Russia does not feel respected as a super-power. He claims that this sentiment is what prompts it to work with the Islamist regime in Ankara and with Iran. However, he believes that if the West stopped lecturing them about the Crimea, removed the sanctions on Russia, decided not to add a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and treated the Russians in a more respectful manner in general, there is a chance that it can be pulled out of the Iranian axis and will stop creating issues for the West via Turkey. If the West addresses Russia’s concerns in the context of a final peace deal for Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine, he said that Russia may want to start cooperating with the West.
Abbas also argued that the Kurds can play a strategic role in reducing American-Russian tensions, for the Syria issue is presently thwarting a compromise on other issues: “The Kurds can set up the conditions to reduce the jihadist/Iranian influence.
They can create a peaceful economically developing region that can be a positive development in the region. That will enable Russia and the US to deal with the other issues they have. Now, they are stuck on these issues so they don’t address the other issues they have.”
Also for the State of Israel, it will be good if Russia can distance itself from the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime calls to wipe Israel off the map. It is propping up Hezbollah and other terrorist groups with the goal of eradicating the Jewish state. Iran is presently the number one obstacle to peace in the Middle East because even if both the Israelis and Palestinians agree on a proper solution to end the conflict, Iranian front groups will tear the deal apart before it has a chance to take root.
Russia’s close relationship with Iran enables the Iranian regime to be stronger and more successful in such efforts. However, if Russia is pushed away from Iran, then Iran will instantly become weaker and less of a threat to Israel. As for the Kurds, while they seek firstly a strategic alliance with the US, having a good relationship with Russia is also important to them and Russia having close relations with Iran hinders such efforts.
But for Russia to be distanced from the ayatollah’s regime, Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar emphasized, “We need to speak together like grown-ups. Right now, I think this is the return of the Cold War. It is a multi-location struggle between the US and Russia. It is not about Iran or Syria.”
According to him, the US is not entirely to blame for the situation.
“You need two to tango. By bombing the people of Syria, is this a civilized way to deal with problems? They are vicious!” However, regardless of who is at fault, what is needed is for the US to step back and to try to think of a coherent strategy to distance Russia from Iran because the strategic alliance between the two threatens Middle East peace. As Abbas noted, “The Middle East cannot be given on a golden platter to Iran.”