While in the Soviet Union, the 7 November celebrations of the anniversary of the October Revolution and Victory Day on the 9th of May were co-equals when it came to sacred national holidays, in modern Russia, the 9th of May remains not only the most sacred national holiday but the most popular, even more so than Russia’s New Years Eve – a secular holiday which combines what in the west are both New Year’s and civic Christmas traditions.
It is in this context that one must view Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to “Israeli” leader Benjamin Netanyahu as the Russian President’s “guest of honour” for Victory Day.
When it comes to Syria, the Russian military is helping the Arab Republics Ba’athist government that “Israel” has been trying to destroy for decades. This is a fact, but it nevertheless only tells a half truth. While the Russian military has in fact been helping Syria to fight Takfiri terrorism, Russia has not and according to its own limited mandate will not help Syria fight any defensive or offensive wars against a foreign government/regime.
In fact the opposite is true. Now that the war against Takfiri terrorism is winding down, Russia would prefer Syria to begin engaging in a political process to end the conflict. From Russia’s preferred point of view, such a process would include Syria’s diplomatic reconciliation with Turkey, Syria putting off settling the illegal “Israeli” occupation of the Golan Heights for sometime in the future and finally, Russia would rather see Syria work with other international and regional powers to force a US withdrawal from Syria, over direct attacks on US occupation forces in the country.
In this sense, Russia’s strategy in Syria contradicts that of Iran. When contrasted with Russia, Iran is not only supportive of Syria’s stated mission of liberating the entire country from both terrorism and from the regular armies of foreign governments/regimes, but increasingly as foreign powers including “Israel” use Syria to escalate a war on Iran that they refuse to launch on Iranian soil, not only is Iran willing to fight back from Syrian soil but at this point, some elements of both the “Israeli” military and Iranian military are salivating at the thought of firing their latest missiles at each other over Syria. Some in Syria support this strategy too in the hope that Iran could help Syria recover its legal territory in the occupied Golan Heights.
While firefights such as last night’s cross-contact line missile attacks between “Israel” on one said and Syria + alleged “Iranian forces” on the other happen, Russia does nothing because all the sides involved know the stay out of the way of Russian forces. So long as they do, Russia will not react nor choose sides. In these matters Russia is de-facto neutral and if called upon to mediate between Syria and “Israel” or Iran and “Israel” Russia would happily do so, but Russia is not going to make such an offer if it knows that the sides involved are not ready for such mediation.
The optics and the illusions
With Netanyahu standing next to Putin on the most important day in the Russian calendar year, the message is clear that Netanyahu is considered deeply honourable by the Russian government, far more so than many western leaders who have repeatedly refused attendance at Russia’s Victory Day parades in an attempt to insult the Russian state and people. While this is clearly a sign of “Israel’s” strong relationship with Russia, it does have to be noted that as Netanyahu stood shoulder to shoulder with Putin, he would have heard the announcement that many of the soldiers marching past were young veterans of a conflict in Syria. In this sense, Russia could be accused of “trolling” the “Israeli” leader by demonstrating to him that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men who liberated Europe from fascist rule have now liberated Syria from Takfiri rule. However, in actual fact, the realities on the ground in Syria which were largely created by Russia have already got “Israel” to make one of the biggest ever geopolitical concessions of its history, even though many have failed to notice.
Multiple “Israeli” officials have stated through gritted teeth that they are now willing to live next door to their arch nemesis President Bashar Al-Assad, so long as Al-Assad persuades Iran to take its military assets out of Syria. While Syria retains the right as a sovereign nation to be allied with and cooperate with any power it wants, when analysed through the prism of traditional “Israeli” ultimatums, this one is comparatively moderate. In order for Egypt to have its stolen Sinai peninsula returned from “Israel”, Egypt had to essentially give up the central part of its formerly Nasserist foreign policy and recognise “Israel” as a state. As a result, President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in broad daylight. In 1994, Jordan too surrendered to pressure and recognised “Israel” even though Jordanians are still cannot easily travel to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Al-Quds, even though the Jordanian King is the Mosque’s custodian.
But for Syria, Tel Aviv merely wants Iran’s military presence in all its real and imagined forms expunged from Syria and in exchange “Israel” will accept that under these conditions it lost in its proxy war to remove President Al-Assad from power. On the other end of this spectrum, these concessions from “Israel” have been followed up with increasingly vicious threats to “assassinate” the Syrian President if Iran retains its presence. That being said, the fact that “Israel” is willing to concede that it might have to live next to a country ruled by an Al-Assad family that has been the target of “Israeli” aggression and propaganda for deacdes, still represents the biggest concession “Israel” has made to an Arab Nationalist state in its history. The fact that such a concession came about is almost entirely due to Russia’s presence in Syria. This achievement of Russian diplomacy should not be ignored, although thus far it largely has been.
By inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to Victory Day, Russia is sending a big hint to Syria to accept “Israel’s” ultimatum and allow Iran a dignified way to shift its presence in Syria from a military one to a political one that is less focused on defending against “Israel’s” war fought against Iran on Syrian soil and more interested in ending all of the many aspects of the current Syrian conflict. This could also transform the “Israeli” + US war on Iran from a proxy war in Syria to a mere sanctions war as the US and its allies remain rightly afraid of attacking Iran in Iran.
This is not “5D chess” or mind games, its sending a strong message to both Syria and Iran to take the compromise that Russia has quietly set up. If Syria and Iran refuse, as is their right, Russia will not do anymore than it already has except for mediating a conflict that Russia tried to stop months ago.
Russia and “Israel’s” long term bilateral goals
a. For Russia
Far from merely using Netanyahu’s presence at Victory Day to send a message to Syria and Iran, Moscow does have long term plans with “Israel”. The last three decades of immigration to “Israel” have included a vast number of Russian speakers who naturally have some degree of cultural affinity with Russia. While western historians of Soviet Jewry often adopt the same anti-Moscow black propaganda as their gentile colleagues, in terms of the bilateral cultural ties between the countries of the wider post-Soviet space and “Israeli” Jews of Russian speaking origin, there is a far more circumscribed attitude to Soviet and Russian history. In this sense, while Jews of European origin who immigrated to Palestine dislike most mentions of their European backgrounds in anything other than an academic context, for the Russian speakers in “Israel”, many such individuals have varying degrees of pride in respect of Soviet heritage.
Not only is Soviet music, television and film popular among many Russian speaking “Israelis” consistently popular, but as it was the Soviet Army that liberated Europe, including Europe’s concentration camps where many European Jews were held, there is a clear historical affinity towards Russia from the perspective of any Jew who believes that even in 2018 Europe is too dangerous a place to live. Indeed Netanyahu has stated on multiple occasions that 21st century Europe is not a safe place for Jews to live. He has not and wouldn’t ever say such a thing about 21st century Russia.
Contrary to western propaganda, the Soviet Union was always a safe place for those of a Jewish background. While the USSR was a formally atheist state, no one was singled out because of their background as they were in Europe during that same period in time. Today, many “Israelis” including Netanyahu appear to be openly acknowledging this fact of history that remains distorted by western “historians” of all confessional and ethnic backgrounds.
This is part of Russia’s larger strategy to co-opt both “Israel” and the western pro-“Israel” Jewish lobby into having more favourable views to Russia. If “Israel” is America’s closest ally and one which can influence elements of US foreign policy far more easily than for example many of America’s close European allies (the JCPOA being case and point), if such an ally is also an ally of Russia, it means that the US cannot monopolise its relationship with “Israel” to form an anti-Russian axis. In this sense, while the overwhelmingly non-Jewish population of the United States is being fed a constant diet of black propaganda designed to defame Russia, if American Jews who are still generally pro-“Israel” (though not as strongly as in past decades) see that Vladimir Putin, a man that as Americans they are told to hate, is warmly embracing the leader of a country they generally respect if not love, the clear psychological message being sent is that “Russia cannot be all that bad”.
Many in alt-media may find this hard to realise but Russia is not an Arab country! Furthermore, most Russians are either Orthodox or non-religious. Only after that is there a small contented minority of patriotic Muslims and an even smaller contented minority of patriotic Jews. As such, Russia’s foreign policy values will be different than those of traditional Arab Nationalist states, as well as Revolutionary Islamic Republics like Iran. This will only be surprising by those stupid enough to believe that in helping Syria fight terrorism in order to maintain a safe Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean, that Russia has somehow transformed itself into an Arab Nationalist state. This is not real geopolitical analysis, to paraphrase George H.W. Bush it is “voodoo geopolitical analysis”.
Instead, the reality is that Russia wants to and is using its partnership with “Israel” as a means of leveraging Arab states as well as countries like Iran so that they allow Russia to mediate disputes which are too heated for countries in the region to negotiate directly. In addition, Russia is positioning itself in such a way that it is confusing America’s cheap anti-Russian propaganda campaign in the minds of American Jews who are seeing that Vladimir Putin is far more pro-“Israel” than many in the US based alt-media. In an age where various Jewish groups further allege a rise in western antisemitism, it is a further soft power blow against American propaganda for such Jews to see that Vladimir Putin does not embrace the hateful causes that the liberal western establishment wrongly associate with him.
b. For “Israel”
“Israel” realises that as US influence in the Middle East wanes and as the days of the US as a single global superpower are over thanks to the re-emergence of Russia and China. Because of this Tel Aviv’s more worldly leaders know that they are going to need to diversify alliances in order to retain power in the region. As there aren’t any people of Chinese background living in “Israel”, Russia is the more natural of the two eastern superpowers for Tel Aviv, although Beijing and Tel Aviv also have very healthy relations.
This itself is one of the reasons that “Israel” wants to ram a pro-Zionist one-state solution in all but name down the throats of Palestinians as soon as possible, because while China and Russia do not share the one-state Palestine ideal of countries like Iran and Syria, they are in fact sincere about wanting a two-state solution that is equitable to Palestinians.
In the wider context, while Russia and China may want a smaller Palestine than Iran and Syria, they certainly want a bigger Palestine than the United States and Saudi Arabia. This is why the forthcoming so-called “peace deal” authored by the US and Saudi Arabia which if signed by the Palestinian leadership would solidify a one-state “Israel” with a few bits of a disjointed Palestine sprinkled inside in the less important parts of the territory, would allow Tel Aviv to breath a sigh of relief because in a middle and late 21st century dominated by Russia and China, a real two-state solution would be back on the table and this would clearly give “Israel” less than any US/Saudi authored deal.
Be that as it may, “Israel” is in its own way acting pragmatically in courting a superpower that is rising. While the US will still be seen as the country that will do more for “Israel” as Washington is largely wantonly oblivious to the opinion of the Arab and Muslim world, Russia which is very keenly aware of Muslim and Arab public opinion will have to be the go-to superpower in future decades so far as Tel Aviv is concerned. Saudi Arabia is developing increasingly strong ties with Russia and China for the same reason.
The Arab World
Russia’s embrace of “Israel” does not equate to Moscow turning its back on the Arab World. By contrast, many of Russia’s former Arab allies have been ‘regime changed’ by the United States dating to a post-Cold War era when Russia was far weaker than it is today. Because of this, the all-weather Arab Nationalist friends of the USSR in the Arab World are mostly gone so instead, Russia is embracing a policy of multilateralism in the region where Moscow is able to have healthy relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, “Israel” and Palestine, Egypt and Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, etc…
Those who negatively contrast Russia’s multilateral win-win foreign policy aims of 2018 with the more ideological ‘bloc based’ foreign policy of the USSR have a fatal flaw in their analysis. Russia’s main rival, the United States isn’t living in the Soviet era anymore so why should Russia? The proper contrast to draw against Russia’s contemporary multilateral foreign policy is that of the contemporary United States. When it comes to that contrast, Russia is building a far more sustainable set of relationships than is the US.
While the US can barely make a friend without alienating someone else (fro example Washington trading Pakistan for India, Turkey for anti-Turkish regimes and terror groups, the Philippines for Vietnam etc), Russia is by contrast able to retain old allies while making new important partners.
In this sense, Russia is not going to abandon the Arab world but nor is Russia going to fight to liberate Palestine. Palestine is today as it always was, an Arab issue. While it is true that in the Cold War era, the USSR did side exclusively with Palestine between 1956 and the 1980s, the fact is that the USSR didn’t liberate Palestine then, even at a time when Moscow did ‘take sides’. In fact, far form liberating Palestine during the Cold War, during the decades in which Moscow took an openly pro-Palestine position, Palestine continued to shrink while “Israel” continued to grow. This reality means that it is important to separate Moscow’s Cold War rhetoric on Palestine from its actions – actions which de-facto led to nothing. If Moscow did not take it upon itself to liberate Palestine at the height of the Cold War, than why then should a far more geopolitically neutral Russia take on that task today?
The answer is that Palestine is today as it has always been a matter for the Arab world. If the Arab world remains too bitterly divided by western provocateurs to do anything for Palestine, why should a Russian government save Palestine, when frankly Moscow has errored in refusing to even save Russian men, women and children in Donbass? If Russia has been hesitant to liberate Donbass, Russia’s own version of the occupied territories, why should Russia sacrifice its pragmatic geopolitical stance for a moral cause that ought to be owned by the Arab world? The answer is self-evident.
The following points are therefore important to consider
–Russia and “Israel” have a strong relationship. It is imperfect but it is a lot better than many think it is. If non-Russians who expect Vladimir Putin to be the heir to Nasser cannot accept this, I suggest you seek psychiatric help.
–Russia needs “Israel” as a means of leveraging its mediation strategy against other partners including Syria and Iran.
–Russia needs “Israel” to expose the flaws in the western anti-Russian propaganda war by showing that Russia is friends with America’s best friend and that unlike western leaders who are confused by 21st century trends in antisemitism, Russia has no such conflicts of interests nor in approaches to history.
–“Israel” needs Russia as a key superpower partner in an age of declining US influence
–“Israel” needs Russia in order to de-escalate future tensions between “Israel” and anti-Zionist regional powers including Iran.