There exists a brand of dogma ingrained in some analytical mindsets which dictates that Iran and Russia are tag-teaming the US and the Saudis and possess relations between themselves as close as what have been between the latter for most of history. While an understandable impression to hold, it is not really true and fails to appreciate the many nuances and layers of the fray that is international relations and global power politics. Iran, for one, can be said to be a ‘revisionist power’ in full, but the taking of Russia as a Crusader against the warmongering Western status quo is irrational should one examine in earnest the most powerful factors that drive Western warmongering, especially in the Middle Eastern theatre of conflict. This under-appreciation of the heart of the Western war machine coupled with wishful thinking leads one to believe that Russia’s moves, especially since the Syria intervention in 2015, are definitive and all-encompassing death blows to the political forces and powers driving Western wars. There exist aspects of Russia’s very organized and skilfully crafted foreign policy that can be studied and the way they relate with the political actors majorly responsible for pushing the West’s wars that make it clear the grand Russian geopolitical approach does not make the cut for the Crusader- Against-Evil tag.
Western wars for Israel: why enabling, supporting or facilitating Israel is directly contrary to the motion of combating the Western war machine
Regardless of how many disinformation narratives are pushed by the ‘anti-war industrial complex’ epitomized by controlled opposition and gatekeepers to obstruct the fact, Israeli capacity to shape the USA’s foreign policy is a fact hard to ignore. It is impossible to ignore the history of hardcore Zionists achieving important spots in the US government, of the scope for bribery and influencing of the Congress available to AIPAC and its affiliates courtesy of their ability to evade registration as foreign agents and of the disturbing ability of the Israel Lobby to get legislators to trample over the First Amendment to curb criticism of Israel. It is yet more impossible to ignore the fact that specifically Israeli strategic objectives being pursued by the US despite the harm to US interests is not a coincidence but a result of the sort of influence Israel has over the US.
The fake Nayirah testimony arranged by Israeli agent Tom Lantos that got the US to first attack Iraq in 1990-91, the decisive intrigues of the Office of Special Plans and false-intel on the Iraqi WMD threat as well as the formulation of a ‘7 country hit list’ for the US to follow mere days after 9/11 by the Zionist-neocon cabal occupying the Pentagon, the Lavon Affair of the 1950s and USS Liberty incident in 1967; the damning examples of Israeli dominance over US foreign-policy and propelling of it toward attacking Israeli adversaries are numerous.
Israel itself being a perpetually aggressive, expansionist state is also a vital fact to understand whilst discussing the dealings of any state with it and whilst considering the goals of Russia’s own geopolitics. It relies on its ability to call on American resources and military power to engage its enemies, with Iran having remained a central and prioritized foe since the long rivalry between Israel and Egypt effectively ended at Camp David and Iraq was down and out for well over two decades. The root of the animosity between Iran and the US lies in that stemming from the Israel Lobby toward Iran, the primary supplier and backer of anti-Israeli resistance groups in Lebanon and Palestine.
The Great Syrian War: Russia’s role and nature of engagement with Israel
As the latest and perhaps most region-and-world defining Western-made war with its roots in Israeli policy, the Syrian War provides a good idea of Russia’s overall geopolitical approach and its degree of overlap or lack thereof with that of the Iranians and their Resistance bloc and their Israel-GCC-Western foes.
It has became commonly viewed that Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria delivered a death blow to decades-worth of Israeli planning of a magnitude similar to that dealt to the Zionists in the 2006 July War by Hezbollah. That Israel invested heavily in the downfall of the pro-Iranian government of Syria is well known by now. That the failure of its Takfiri allies to achieve that goal was arguably the last major failure of what many take to calling Israel’s ‘Yinon strategy’ is also well know. The Yinon strategy, named after a strategic document published by an Israeli Likud official in the early 80s essentially laying out the outlines of what one way or the other defined Israel and the USA’s war tactics in the following years, has definitely hit major roadblocks since the failure in 2006 against Hezbollah. Israel wanted Syria out of the Iranian sphere of influence and broken down, possibly balkanized, due to its importance as a central link between Iranian material support and Hezbollah as well as Palestinian resistance groups.
However, the notion of the Russian Crusader doesn’t quite sit well with reality. Russia has done immense damage to what was a Western and GCC investment for a long time (and thus of immense use to Israel): transnational Wahabi terrorism. Proliferated during the anti-USSR war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the terrorists found their most prominent and open employment in the form of hordes thrown kitchen-sink style at Bashar al Assad’s Syria from March 2011 onwards. While Hezbollah and Iran assisted the Syrians and Iraqis in fighting the scourge years prior to the 2015 Russian intervention, Russia provided a vital source of air support against the terrorists who often had NATO and Israel helping them with airstrikes. However, the Russians had informed the Israelis prior to the beginning of their anti-terrorist operations and both sides committed to not hitting each others’ forces whatsoever.
However, despite Israel’s clear agitation over the Syrian successes scored against its partners-in-crime, Netanyahu maintained his close rapport with President Putin. Israel and Russia maintained their coordination and information-sharing on each others’ operations in Syria, with Russia thus passively facilitating Israeli strikes against ‘allied’ Iran-backed targets and the Syrians. As the Russian Defence Ministry put it in a press conference a few months ago, Russia had ‘secured’ the withdrawal of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to a ‘safe distance’ of 140 km away at the request of Israel. Also mentioned were Russian Special Forces being deployed to carry out search operations for missing Israeli soldiers in places where the Syrians and the same terrorists Russia was helping Syria eradicate had fought. The Russians also supported the idea of Syrian operations in the Golan Heights area to ensure ‘shelling on Israeli territory’ did not occur; a strange notion considering Israel was and is at war with Syria and attacking it whilst it waged its anti-terror struggle.
Russia’s Syrian operations were part of a general Russian strategy of countering Wahabi terrorism and militancy which it had started much earlier than the Syrian war against Chechen radical groups. Nailing down the terror hordes unleashed in the Levant was a logical step to take for the Russians considering historically warm ties with Syria and the massive concentration of multinational terrorist squads in its territory. Russia still, however, accommodated Israeli aggression and the security of an Israeli-occupied part of Syria despite Israel openly assisting the same terrorist groups it fought against and striking Russia’s partners in counter-terror operations on the ground. This definitely represents some manner of Israeli leverage over Russia given Russia’s facilitation of something bad for it.
Russia’s much awaited supply of S-300 surface-to-air missile defence system to Syria in early October following the blatant Israeli-assisted shooting down of a Russian aircraft in September seems to not be deterring US strikes on Syrian targets and certainly not Israeli ones either. Supplying Syria with S-300 is something Russia threatened to do several times since 2015 but never followed up on. Israel had warned Russia against supplying Syria with S-300s but the Russian military’s anger over Israel’s ‘betrayal’ was considerable. The Russian military’s response directly holding Israel responsible for the incident contrasted with Putin’s own soft response.
Let alone so much as touch Israeli aircraft, the S-300 remain in Russian control for firing and will rely on Russian signals to identify enemy or friendly targets. Syria will also require months-worth of training from Russia to learn how to use the system. This means that despite Syria technically now being able to cover airspace deep inside Israel itself (and all of Lebanon whose airspace Israel often violates and uses) for anti-air purposes, Israel can still bargain with Russia to not allow Israeli jets to be downed. Russia’s own S-400 systems deployed at the Russian naval base in Tartus and the Russian Khmeimim air base also do not protect Syrian or Iranian targets from US or Israeli airstrikes.
The value to Israel of Russia standing between it and the Resistance actors’ air defense is considerable, since the pathetic standard of Israel’s ground forces as exposed in 2006 means over-reliance on airforce and vulnerability of the occupied Golan Heights. Russia has constructed multiple military outposts along the Golan Heights as well, putting itself in close proximity to the Israelis. The closeness of Russian and Israeli operations in Syria can also be seen from Iran accusing Russia last year of selling identification codes of its air defense systems in Syria to the Israelis, rendering them incapable of detecting Israeli aircraft as hostile on the radar.
The Russian Balancing strategy
As explained meticulously by Moscow-based geopolitical analyst Andrew Korybko, Russia has been consistent in playing the role of ‘balancer’ since its Syria intervention. This has been characterized by propping up states in turmoil and attempting to forge a situation of negotiations leading to détente and even peace between prominent actors. Russia has stepped in with vital support to states and actors that have been experiencing defeat in one form or another and this theme has stayed consistent with Russian moves in Syria. Its airforce balanced the scales between the Resistance and its terrorist adversaries helped by NATO and Israeli airstrikes, it increased its offers for mediation to the Kurds as their Kurdistan plans went off the rails and now it helps to prop up Israel in the wake of the failure to crush Syria and the Resistance. It has become conventional thinking to adopt a highly optimistic view toward Russia’s Balancing act due to its striking successes in terms of diplomacy. Russia has in recent times rapidly constructed new cordial relations with states hostile to its older allies, underscored by incentives in the military and energy fields as has been a traditional Russian diplomatic tactic since the USSR days. Be it Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, Turkey and Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Russia has utilized its traditional diplomatic skill to craft close ties with several important states due to the Balancing approach and emphasis on regional détente. Russia was also a prime mover of the powerful and assertive Turkey’s tilt away from its NATO partners.
While it is clear that Russia has remained directly aware of this weakness (thus its protection and accommodation of Israel), it is more important to remember that for Israel’s unique case, ‘weakness’ actually means the failure of expansionist designs built around the destabilization or destruction of rival states many of which are Russian allies against NATO and transnational extremist terrorism.
Russia’s rise and what Israel can make of it
The trainwreck that has been US policy on Syria since the Russian intervention tends to contrast sharply to the Balancing strategy and thus make the latter look even better in comparison. This assists the view that the latter is putting an end to Western hegemony as does the aforementioned under-appreciation by advocates of the Russian Crusader narrative of the deep state driving Western hegemony and wars.
Russia’s diplomatic outmanoeuvring of the US, which in fact under Trump even seems to be intentionally downsizing its imperialistic power abroad much to the dismay of many, coupled with its facilitation of Israel in Syria presents two realities that aren’t being considered enough. One, that Russia being overall the most powerful single state actor in Syria with regard to military-strategic and diplomatic clout makes it a reliable source of protection for Israel considering the decline of absolute US hegemony in the region and the rise of Iran. Two, that Russia’s working relations and good ties with other states relevant to Israel’s designs make the potential for the large, rich and powerful Zionist presence within Russia to begin to lobby for Russian policies toward other states appreciative of Israeli interests.
Israel in Russia’s Balancing strategy: potentially dangerous direction
Israel with its current internal political turmoil, its humiliatingly ineffective and brief recent assault on Hamas in Gaza and failures to adjust the pro-Resistance status quo in Lebanon and Syria finds a unique source of security insurance in Russia. Russia’s capacity to utilize its ‘honourary membership’ in the Resistance bloc in Syria is useful to its Israeli.
With Israeli interests always involving warmongering and destabilization, this could turn a perfectly rationally crafted Russian Balancing foreign policy framework into something far less than the post-unipolar world utopia many think Russia is Crusading toward. While currently difficult to imagine transnational Zionism influencing Russia to anywhere near the same rather shocking extent it has the US, any amount of facilitation of the Israelis and protection of them against Iran’s Resistance will be bad for regional stability. Russia freely considering Israel to be part of its Balanced equation for the region is counterproductive and dangerous seeing as that has been Israel’s strategic approach since its creation as a state.
Israel’s post-Yinon Strategy approach: why Israel needs to leverage Russia
Israel has responded to the evident failure of its ambitious regime-change plans for its neighbours and Iran by seeking out new more direct strategic understandings with the Gulf monarchies and Russia as well. It has been fast-tracking a much closer alliance with the Saudis owing to the close rapport between Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s ‘Israel-first’ son-in-law Jared Kushner who is a close family friend of Bibi Netanyahu.
The stove-piping Kushner has used since early 2017 to direct foreign policy using MbS as a major partner has produced several noteworthy events: the Qatar crisis, the purge by MbS of political rivals and announcing of over-ambitious ‘modernization’ and ‘privatization’ schemes for the kingdom, the kidnapping of Lebanese Premier Saad Harriri to create internal turmoil in Lebanon and perhaps Israel’s increased interest in supporting the Saudis in the Yemen War as well. Each of these ventures has been a spectacular failure and has achieved the opposite of what they were meant to: Iran as the central target has found these developments to its favour and Israel has gained nothing.
The erratic Israel-Kushner-MbS foreign policy gaffes coincided with the culmination in failure of several long-term Israeli plans that formed part of its Yinon Strategy. The Syrian victory over Wahabi terrorists becoming apparent in early 2017 and the dismantling of Kurdistan ambitions in the Levant by joint Iranian, Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian efforts meant that a lot of Israeli-US investment had now gone down the drain without the desired results. Israel has also itself been more murderous than usual in its treatment of Palestinians, killing more than 300 (including over 50 children) and injuring tens of thousands since the Great March of Return began earlier this year.
Russia’s enabling of Israel’s aggression: the Balancing Strategy placed in turmoil?
What has also coincided with this unhinged behaviour from Israel is the over-accommodation of its illegal occupation of the Golan Heights by Russia and Russian facilitation of its aerial operations in Syria as expanded upon above. Barring recognition of the factor of Zionist power within Russia, or even just its pro-Western financial elites, this makes little sense under the Balancing paradigm. Would true Balancing not involve Russian demands, led by the iconic Putin, for Israel to cease and desist in exchange for the Russian securing of Resistance forces’ withdrawal to a safe distance from the occupied Golan Heights? Russia facilitates Israeli aggression, yet takes definite steps to counter-act Iranian influence which has been a vital counter to Israeli expansionism in the Levant since the 1980s when the Resistance Axis crystallized.
Russia’s goal is to ‘contain’ Iran’s incremental rise in influence throughout the region that took off after Hezbollah’s 2006 victory over Israel and the Iraqi Nuri al Maliki government’s upgrading of Iran-Iraq ties. This props up ‘weakened Israel’, but with ‘weakened Israel’ here being an Israel that failed to bring about the necessary level of destruction to its enemies. To contain Iran to prop up Israel is to contain a potent counter-terror force and a galvanizing and unifying factor for many people in the region against both Israel and Russia’s US rival in exchange for facilitating Israeli aggression and protecting Israel against facing adequate blowback from states it has attacked constantly. This cannot fit into the Balancing scheme for the region.
Russia and Israel – ties that are strategic, not just cordial
Elements of the non-mainstream Western media have indeed taken to the Crusader bandwagon and often ignore the blatant signs that point toward Russia being more than comfortable with the prime driver of the world’s worst wars and conflicts. It can be rare enough to find adequate highlighting of the over-accommodation by Russia of Israel’s behaviour despite its harmfulness to the Balancing strategy Russia employs. It is yet rarer to find appraisals of Russia’s relations with Israel and Zionism that go beyond the awkward designation of Putin as an anti-Zionist hero because of his domestic political victories over the mostly Jewish and Zionist Russian oligarchs of the 1990s era.
What makes the Russia-Israel relationship worth a deeper look at, however, is not just the intriguing way it pans out in Syria in recent times. There exists evidence that Russia has considered Israel an important partner even prior to its grand entry into the Middle East fray. Important enough, in fact, to potentially jeopardize growing ties with fellow US rival and rising Middle East power Iran by giving Israel the codes for Tor-M1 missile complexes that it sold to Iran. Revealed to the public by Wikileaks, the sale was part of a swap which saw Israel giving Russia data link codes for the drones it sold to Georgia. The Russians would crush the weaker Georgians in the five-day war that occurred in August, with the Georgians unsuccessful in their attempts in July to buy new drones from Mexican sources to replace those they had become aware were compromised.
Is Russia intentionally allowing exclusive Israeli impunity against its Balancing strategy?
Russia is vocal in its support for Israel’s false propaganda about its aggression against Lebanon, a country it occupied between 1982 and 2000, being ‘defensive’ in nature against a Hezbollah ‘threat’. Israel recognizes Russian support for its actions in Lebanon, as evidenced by Netanyahu and Putin’s personal discussions of ‘Hezbollah tunnels’ and what not.
Leaked diplomatic cables from a June 2018 interaction between the Slovakian foreign ministry and its Israeli counterparts also revealed Israeli appreciation of the Russians’ blatant attempted containment of Iran in Syria.
Russia’s containment of Iran and its Resistance allies is difficult to portray as an attempt to de-escalate the situation between Israel and Syria and not as containment of Iran as wishful thinking and the Crusader notion seeks to do. It has also been suggested that Russian attempts to have Iranian and Hezbollah forces leave Syria as Israel completely irrationally demands are a favour seeking to get sanctions lifted off Iran. The cracks in this argument are wide enough to show it as more wishful thinking; Russia’s recent non-denial of questions requesting confirmation of it trying to broker Iranian withdrawal from Syria ‘in exchange for sanctions-relief’ showed that it is indeed making such moves.
However, far from genuinely trying to please both Iran and Israel, Russia seems very much to be attempting to secure advantage for the latter. Iran in the post-JCPOA scenario would not believe in any ‘guaranteed sanctions relief’ for the US even if Israel somehow miraculously lived up to its end of the bargain and greenlighted for the US to provide such relief. Furthermore, Russia cannot have been unaware that such a deal being brokered would not be honoured by the US and thus that in the event Iran withdrew from Syria, it would experience a net loss. To make matters clearer, major Russian companies working in its prolific energy sector themselves begun withdrawing from large investments made in the Iranian oil and gas sector soon after the US announcement of impending Iran sanctions. Companies such as Rosneft, connected very closely to the Russian leadership, decided Iran too risky an environment with sanctions looming. Other companies such as Zarubezhneft and LUKoil also abandoned large projects in Iran in recent months citing US sanctions as a reason.
Influential Russian state-run think tanks such as the Russian Internatonal Affairs Council also consider Iran a rival to Russia in certain ways and see necessity in the Russian accommodation of Israel. The point of whether or not such establishments are aware of the anathema Israel’s policies represent vis-à-vis Russia’s Balancing project is barely significant here; the fact that they are known to inform policy is what matters. In early November, representatives of the prestigious Russian MGIMO university described Iranian political Islam and ‘expansionism’ as a threat at an event organized in the UAE to discuss regional and strategic affairs. The team also played to the audience’s preferences, raising the false spectre of the Netanyahu-crafted ‘Iranian nuclear threat’ as a possible blowback to US sanctions. The simple fact that Iran shows no signs of ceasing to abide by non-proliferation obligations was obviously not beyond their knowledge, thus demonstrating the objective of their participation in the event to be lobbying for Russia-GCC ties. The MGIMO was certainly chosen for this purpose, given that its Board of Trustees chaired by prolific Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosts oligarchs close to the Kremlin in Vladimir Potanin and Alisher Usmanov and Andrey Akimov as well as chairman of the board of Russia’s third largest bank.
Russia’s ‘support’ for Iran often takes the shape of relatively empty statements reminding primarily the US of the legality of Iranian armed presence in Syria whilst engaging in negotiations to have Iran withdraw. For Israel however, Russia agrees with its ‘concerns’ about Iran’s presence and works at Tel Aviv’s request in trying to curb it.
The Russian team highlighted the need for Russia to prioritize ties with the Gulf countries, with whom Russia has led a general rapprochement with since they stepped down their complicity in backing anti-Syrian terrorists. Saudi Arabia in particular has been finding an increasingly willing business partner in Russia to prop it up after its traditional US allies have begun to raise alarm over MbS’ methods (their lack of results, not their moral credentials). Bin Salman could well find reconciliation in the support Putin extents to him following his military wastage in Yemen and the in-built lack of sustainability of his modernization plans for his kingdom.
For relevance to Israel, Russia may well become a guarantor of the regional security of the otherwise brittle Gulf countries who are a vital part of the new Netanyah-Kushner approach to mapping out a new anti-Iran, anti-Resistance roadmap after the balkanization model’s failure. Russia, yet again, cannot have missed the series of erratic and incendiary foreign policy ventures undertaken by the Israelis and Saudis together since MbS consolidated power but will likely let the Israeli-centric moves against Iran to continue. Regardless of how devastating an attempted attack on Iran would be for global industry (given that Iran can seize the Strait of Hormuz as a defensive measure and thus stop vital oil shipments out of the GCC), Israel possesses the sheer disregard for international stability and peace to go through with it.
Interesting times ahead
The continuous Russian facilitation of hyper-aggressive behaviour from Israel despite the obvious contradiction to Russia’s Balancing paradigm plays into the complexity of Russia-Israel relations, but also means it is reasonable to state that the two are allies. Putin has maintained a heavily pro-Israel rhetoric himself since the early 2000s, praising it on many occasions and implicitly legitimizing many of its murderous military operations as ‘counter-terrorism’.
The Russian Jewish community, which has a thriving civil society scene to organize itself around, is rich and has extensive ethno-religious links to that in Israel. As controversially demonstrated by a Russian website in 2014, Jews in Russia form 21% of the country’s billionaire class while constituting only about 0.1% of the national population. In Russia’s 70% state-owned economy, this represents a picture in complete reverse of the ‘Jew hating Russians’ pushed by the most zealous sections of the Zionist media and political spectrum. Respected political commentators on Russian affairs such as The Saker also acknowledge the existence of considerable amounts of pro-Israel propaganda within Russia. Such media outlets often find themselves funded by oligarchs with large stakes in the multi-billion dollar revenue companies for which Russia is renowned. That these companies provide the economic and financial backbone of the Russian Federation via the government holding dominant shares in them makes the pro-Israel disposition of many of Russia’s notables yet more significant.
It is true that Zionists and Israel-firsters have had a lot of say in the rapid escalation of the US-Russia ‘new Cold War’. Suggested by many to have taken off with the anti-Russian Magnitsky Act of 2012 sanctions legislation by the US Congress in 2012, it has featured ex-Russian and currently-Israel residing billionaire oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky (now deceased), Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky actively participating in the Western information war against Putin. Such facts are easy to come across and do not require excessive elaboration. They also fit neatly into the general theme of Israel having no issues with sabotaging states it is seen as an ‘ally of’ regardless of their ample accommodation of its irrational demands. It did, after all, provide the Soviets intel obtained via the spying Jonathan Pollard did in the US for Israel and sell military technology provided to it by the US to the Chinese in the 90s despite US objections.
It is very much evident that Russia as of now offers the aggressive Israel ‘special treatment’ which may in the future rise to levels more comparable to that which Israel extracts from the US. Russia does so despite Israel’s attempts to very much ‘de-Balance’ things in the region. The two states are allies, with Russia forming an important and reliant partner for Israel who in turn has not abandoned its aggressive policies and finds Russia as an increasingly important safeguard against the now-stronger Resistance bloc.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.