Israel fears war could hurt Iran effort

Diplomatic official: Russia may try to appease Iran so as to receive support in securing southern border.

ahmadinejad waves 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ahmadinejad waves 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Russia's war with Georgia and the infuriated reaction in the West to what US President George W. Bush calls Moscow's "disproportionate response" could make it harder to enlist Russian help on the Iranian issue, according to Israeli diplomatic officials and academics. According to one diplomatic official, Russia's policy toward Iran is linked to a basket of other issues. "Russia's position right now is that they are trying to reaffirm their status in their world," the official said. "They have an interest in showing that they are tough in South Ossetia, and that they are also not going to be pushed around by the West when it comes to Iran." While it was too early yet to fully judge the ramifications of the Georgian conflagration on the Iranian issue, at some point Moscow would have an interest in showing the world that Russia was not a belligerent country, the official said. "That is in the long term," the official said. "In the short term the Russian interest is likely to say that they will not be pushed around, not relative to Georgia, or on other issues." The Russians might also conclude that they now needed Iranian support to maintain stability in the south of Russia, including in Chechnya, which borders Georgia, the official said. And having Iran "on board" may, for Moscow, mean not pressing overmuch on the Iranian nuclear issue. According to this thinking, were the Iranians so disposed, they could make things much more difficult than they already are for the Russians in Chechnya. Brenda Shaffer, a lecturer on Central Asia and the Caucasus region at the University of Haifa, said the Georgia-Russian conflict must be seen within the larger context of Russia's relations with the US. Shaffer said that when the US recognized Kosovo's independence in February, Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was then president, said that as a result Moscow would recognize the separatist movements in Georgia. "He meant it," she said. There was a direct correlation between Russia's policy toward Iran and its relationship with the US, Shaffer said. "If they feel the US is cooperative, then they are cooperative on Iran," she said. "And if not, they feel they can hurt the US on Iran." She said that on the eve of the fighting in Georgia, Russia did appear to be on board for another round of sanctions against Iran, largely because Teheran had been so unyielding on any kind of compromise on uranium enrichment. It was likely that Russia would go along with sanctions now, Shaffer said. However, she said that if the West - including the expanded EU that included former Soviet satellites that now wanted to take a tough stand against Russia - insisted on taking a hard line on the Georgia issue, then Moscow would likely respond by taking a tough line of its own on other issues, including being less cooperative with the West on Iran.