Better than a peace conference

Israel mustn't participate in the touted Russian parley while Moscow continues to back Iran and Syria.

Olmert Lavrov 224.88 (photo credit: GPO [file])
Olmert Lavrov 224.88
(photo credit: GPO [file])
To call the Russian approach to fostering peace in the region indelicate would probably be an understatement. "Thuggish" is the word that comes to mind. As this newspaper reported yesterday, Israeli sources said that Russia's attitude toward the peace conference it wishes to sponsor is that it will be held "whether Israel likes it or not." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's one-day visit here last week was described as "nasty." Perhaps all this is not surprising from a country that is supplying the Iranian regime with nuclear fuel and sophisticated missile defense systems while running interference for the mullahs in the UN Security Council. Lavrov even had the temerity to lecture Israelis about refraining from military action, even as Russia systematically blocks the draconian sanctions on Teheran that are the only hope of avoiding the military option. One might even ask why Moscow would want to hold a peace conference in the first place. Some Israeli officials seem to be taking at face value Russian claims that it is concerned over growing Iranian influence in the region. If so, Russia is attempting to combat this influence in a strange way. It is as if the only arrow in the Russian quiver is the sale of arms and nuclear materials and technology, not just to Iran's rivals, but to Iran itself. It should be obvious, however, that the only way to fundamentally reverse the trend that supposedly concerns Moscow is to address its source: the growing prospect that a terrorist state with an expansionist, totalitarian ideology will become a nuclear power. If Russia truly wants to prevent this, it is in an excellent position to do so. Russia and China are Iran's key allies in the UN Security Council. If Russia joins with the US, the UK and France in favoring truly punishing sanctions on Teheran - such as a ban on refined oil exports to Iran that supply 40 percent of its fuel needs - then it would not be easy for China to remain exposed as Iran's sole protector. Even if the Security Council route were blocked, Russian support for real sanctions, not the minimal and insufficient steps taken so far, could help change the dynamic in Europe, which could impose its own tough sanctions without any further UN action. Instead, Moscow seems to be reprising the old Soviet policy of being weapons supplier to rogue states and sticking its finger in the eye of the West. How this is in the interest of today's Russia is difficult to imagine. What is clear, however, is that Israel should have no part of it. Russia is attempting to host a peace conference while protecting the main source of war: Iran. Russia is not only protecting Iran physically, through the missile defense systems that surround its nuclear facilities, but diplomatically, by blocking serious international sanctions. So long as this remains the case, Israel must not attend a "peace" conference in Moscow that serves to legitimize the Russian role. If an unreformed Russia wants to hold a "peace" conference without Israel, let it. This does not mean that Israel should oppose a constructive Russian role. On the contrary; Israel should make clear that it welcomes Russian involvement in isolating Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. Russia cannot have it both ways. It cannot fashion itself as an international troublemaker, and a friend to even worse troublemakers, and then act surprised when the trouble it helps create spins out of control and backfires against Russian interests. For years, France pursued a version of such a policy, during which Paris seemed to value its "independence" from Washington more than playing a constructive role on the world stage. Thankfully, France seems to have outgrown such a stance, which ultimately contributed nothing to its own interests. True world powers do not define themselves as adolescents do, solely in reference to rebellion for rebellion's sake. Russia has even more reason than France did to pick itself out of its contrarian, quasi-Soviet rut, assuming that Russians have more to gain from further integrating themselves into the West. Does Russia really have an interest in Iran prevailing against the US? If not, Russia should truly join, not impede, the international campaign to force Iran to back down. If Russia were to take such an about-face and join the side of peace, it would do more for peace than a thousand conferences.