How Israel May Benefit from Russia in Syria

When push came to shove, Israel could always rely upon America. In 1973, when the USSR nearly moved tactical nuclear weapons into Egypt, Richard Nixon placed US forces on high alert world-wide. No public explanation was given but the Soviets understood – America would not allow them to tip the scales decisively against Israel. America saw the bet and raised. Israel survived.
While never formalized, the “special relationship” between America and Israel constituted an alliance, wherein each party benefited the other, with Israel providing intelligence, projection of power, technical advancement and practical experience and with America providing funding, weaponry, diplomatic cover and strategic balance.
Now many relationships have significantly eroded. Aid and cooperation have become conditional as America decreasingly perceives shared values with Israel and mutual interest with Sunni Arab states.
Alliances are force multipliers of their members’ self-interests. But if perceived self-interests come to conflict, alliances dissolve. Then self-interest drives the formation of new alliances.
America erroneously blames herself for all the troubles of the world. She finds fault with her military actions but in withdrawal she also withdraws from her critically essential role as world policeman. Finding both distasteful, she confuses the use of force with the threat of force, leaving a vast void that real evil wastes no time to fill. The so-called Arab Spring still ravages Libya and Yemen; Egypt faces the Muslim Brotherhood; Al Qaida is resuscitated; ISIS savages Syria and Iraq while advancing global Sunni jihad; unfettered Iran advances Shi’ite regional hegemony and confronts Saudi Arabia; Hezbollah gains invaluable urban warfare experience; and Turkey quarrels with just about everybody, fights the Kurds, aids ISIS and shakily targets an unfettered Russia which has returns in force to the eastern Mediterranean.
As elaborated by others, four power blocs now vie in the Middle East – Shi’ite Iran with her proxies and allies under the Russian umbrella; Salafi jihadists led by Sunni ISIS; the Muslim Brotherhood with its offshoots; and all those threatened by one or more of the above. Saudi Arabia aggressively leads the latter, establishing in 2015 the world-wide Sunni Islamic Military Alliance of thirty-four nations, actively warring against Iranian proxies in Yemen, contemplating action in Syria and all but openly cooperating strategically with Israel. America’s erstwhile allies find mutual interest among themselves. These blocs collide in the Middle East and far beyond.
Russia returned to Syria to ally with Iran and Hezbollah, providing air cover to their ground forces to shore up the Assad regime. This alliance is based on mutual interest in maintaining Assad which regains Syria as a Russian base and expands Iranian hegemony. Each benefits militarily, economically and politically with Russia increasing power in the eastern Mediterranean and Iran determining national and religious affairs. These nations have much in common – both are messianic, autocratic and aggressive. Both greatly disdain America, the ultimate enemy – Iran out of fervor and Russia out of pride.
Yet these similarities could prove Israel’s salvation. Sometimes friends become adversaries – Hitler and Stalin had a lot in common too. Russia and Iran each sees herself as the chosen center of her faith. Moscow would be the third Rome and Teheran would be the capital of the new caliphate. While there are few Christians in Iran and no overriding compulsion to Christianize Islam, there are many Muslims in Russia. The potential threat from messianic Iran is not lost on Vladimir Putin.
With the exception of short periods, Russia and Iran share nearly five hundred years of mutual support. Yet the potential for catastrophic collision may be leading Putin to hedge his bets. Russian encouragement of Turkish-Israeli rapprochement may derive partly from Turkish visceral opposition to Iran – so too Russian willingness to allow Israel defensive latitude against Hezbollah and Assad’s Syria. He may also be showing respect for Bibi Netanyahu’s no-nonsense view on Israel’s survival.
Isolated Turkey may settle disputes with both Israel and Russia and optimistically with Cyprus and Greece, now in tripartite alliance with Israel. Greece considers a strategic arc from the eastern Mediterranean including Bulgaria and Romania to defend eternally somnolent Europe quite literally from jihadist Islam. Russia de facto forms the northern end of this arc and Turkey, in the middle, must decide where her best interests lie. Settling disputes while facing Iran may form her best option and Israel’s best hoped-for outcome.
Powerful, resourceful and back-to-the-wall, Israel forms the southern end of the arc. Once hostile Greece has made her an ally. Perhaps Russia would too.
Sometimes adversaries become friends.