How US tensions with Russia and China could impact Israel

Iran and Turkey are riding this wave of global exhaustion with US hegemony. They also want to invade states in the Middle East and supplant US allies, partners and influence.

CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping makes a toast on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in Beijing on September 30.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping makes a toast on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in Beijing on September 30.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US is in the midst of growing tensions with both Russia and China, two countries that its national defense strategy sees as “near-peer” rivals in the world.
In a sense, the US has created a self-fulfilling prophecy in this regard, putting a national strategy openly in place that views these countries as a global problem, and then ending up having a problem with them.
Recently revealed documents showed that US concerns date back to 2018, when the Pentagon said “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of its neighbors.”
This is threatening the global order, Washington claims.
Now, the new US administration is making good on promises to be tough on Moscow and Beijing. President Joe Biden slammed Russia’s president last week.
The Russian Embassy in Washington then mocked the US by noting that it is receiving letters expressing support for US-Russia relations where Americans apologized for Washington’s “ill-considered moves toward Moscow.”
Biden attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin by calling him a “killer” isn’t the only issue facing DC. The US also went to a high-level meeting with China in Alaska. US-Russia ties are, meanwhile, at their most difficult point since the fall of the Soviet Union, CNN noted.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of a “deep concern” he had picked up about China’s behavior during a tour of Asia and condemned Beijing for breaking rules that keep at bay “a more violent world,” according to CNN. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also slammed China.
“Is that the way that you had hoped to conduct this dialogue?” Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi asked. “Well, I think we thought too well of the US.”
WHILE THE tough stance is getting applause in the US, the world order may be affected by these spats.
China, Russia, Iran and Turkey are increasingly working in concert to undermine the US wherever it has influence. And they work in different ways.
China is building up a massive navy that can challenge the US in the Pacific. It is also sponging up connections to traditional US partners in the Middle East. The US is concerned about China’s investments across the region as well as in Africa, South America and Europe.
It appears that countries like Germany are moving close to the China-Russia orbit and are tired of US lectures about things like Nord Stream. All Beijing and Moscow have to do in these areas is pry away a few deals, not supplant Washington.
A port here and a pipeline there are how Russia and China are slowly pushing the US back. They know the US has huge infrastructure problems at home and that the ripple effects of the pandemic continue to cause chaos in the West.
Iran and Turkey are riding this global exhaustion of US hegemony. They also want to invade states in the Middle East and supplant US allies, partners and influence. Both are active in Africa as well. And they want increased rail and highway links with Russia and China.
The larger picture is that these tensions affect Israel.
DURING THE Cold War, the Middle East was partly divided between pro-US states and Soviet-armed states. The Soviets once armed Syria, Iraq and Egypt – whereas the US had closer alliances with the Shah’s Iran – until 1979 – as well as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Turkey was a real NATO ally in those days. However, things changed with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the rise of fundamentalist extremism, the drift of Turkey towards Russia and changing fortunes in the region.
Although Egypt chose to become part of the US orbit in the region and America invaded Iraq, the overall picture is of declining US influence. The US is tired of “endless wars” and it looks like Iran, Turkey and China will capitalize on America’s exit from Afghanistan.
The end of the Cold War brought US hegemony to the Middle East, symbolized by the huge US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and the rapid way America’s prosecution of the war destroyed Saddam’s Soviet-doctrine army.
However, that brief US success was quickly eroded by terrorism. Now it has lost out in some areas. Iran has grabbed up Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria; US allies in the Gulf are seeking a lower profile; Israel is working with Greece and the Gulf.
The Obama administration ended up trying to keep Israel from the Gulf using John Kerry, and empowered Iran. Jerusalem has more support from Washington today.
However, that support comes at a difficult time because of the rise of Iran in the region and the new Turkey-Iran-Russia partnership. Israel has amicable relations with Russia and China, unlike the US. American pressure on Israel seeks to reduce the Jewish state’s relationship with China.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz raised eyebrows for critiquing Biden’s comments on Putin. That is because some expect Israel to do what Washington wants in relations with Russia and China. But Israel’s choices are more complex.
In the face of the Iranian threat, Russia and China matter. They also matter economically, partially due to Russia’s role in Syria.
Although Turkey and Israel technically have relations, Ankara has sought to prevent Jerusalem’s relations with the Gulf and Kosovo. This means Israel is rapidly increasing ties with Greece and the Gulf as well as with countries like India.
But Israel wants a positive relationship with Moscow and Beijing, not an adversarial one. It also wants to make sure that its strategic and defense partnership with the US, which increasingly means defense ties on numerous levels, remains intact as Washington ups the rhetoric with China.
US COMMENTARIES, especially among pro-Israel voices that are linked to the US national security establishment, have warned about Israel-China ties for years.
Much of this is exaggerated, portraying Israel as running into the arms of China. But the overall message is clear – they want Israel to stress that it is being colder to the Asian superpower.
Israel is treading carefully on these demands. Similarly on Russia, Israel treads carefully. It has been in these complex scenarios before, such as when Russia fought a war with Georgia in 2008 when Israel had good relations with Tbilisi.
In addition, Ukraine has sought better ties with Jerusalem, and Russia and Ukraine are locked in a dispute over Crimea and the Donbass. Israel doesn’t want to take sides in any of this. But since 2015 when Moscow increased its role in Syria’s civil war, Israel has worked with the Kremlin to discuss Syria.
The larger context of the current US anger with Moscow and Beijing may end with Russia, China, Iran and Turkey all calling America’s bluff, in a sense asserting their role in a new multi-polar world. This has already been happening quietly.
In 2019 there was the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit in Bishkek, and then the next day the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met with leaders of Central Asian states, as well as India and Pakistan, to discuss regional and global issues.
They adopted the Bishkek Declaration that sought to emphasize the need to fight “three forces of evil,” including separatism, terrorism and extremism. The countries said they were working to challenge “cross-border crime” and “build a multi-polar world order.”
That last part is what matters – they want a multi-polar world. Russia, Iran and Turkey work together on Syria through the Astana process as part of this. In each case, the US is not invited. Israel also is often not invited to these forums.
In short, the multi-polar world is already here. It is just a matter of time before the rising countries seek to force the US hand on this issue.
Like all changes in power, there could be a peaceful transition, such as when Britain ceased to be a global empire in the 1960s, or there could be a major confrontation. Israel will find itself in the middle if it isn’t careful.