Dmitry Frolovsky's Blog

Why Israeli-Russian relations will only get better.

March 18, 2016

Russian military involvement in Syria and the recent agreement with the Syrian government to maintain permanent military bases brings back the Cold War memories when roughly 8000 thousand Soviet soldiers were permanently stationed in Syria. Meanwhile, the Soviet-Israel relations were tensed and the Soviet Union threatened to attack Israel during both the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War, many things have changed since the relations were restored on a diplomatic level 25 years ago.


Israeli-Russian relations are in all times high since the Kremlin supported the foundation of the Jewish state. Vladimir Putin is the only Kremlin’s leader who has visited the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, as well encouraged restoration of synagogues and public celebrations of Hanukah in Russia. Moscow is also right now hosting the largest in Europe Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.


Moscow and Jerusalem are currently enjoying special relations that are perpetuated by the Kremlin’s elite special tribute to the role of Israel and Jews in the history of Russia.


The Kremlin valued the Israeli decision to abstain from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russian actions in Crimea even despite raised eyebrows in Washington. Moscow understands that despite the Israeli alliance with the United States its foreign policy will always remain independent with the core principle to secure the Jewish State’s national borders and interests.


The deployment of the advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile system with a radius of 250 miles covers half of Israeli territory and scraps Jerusalem’s air superiority. However, it is unlikely that Russia’s anti-aircraft missile systems will be used as a tool to impinge freedom of Israeli Air Force and their fight with Hezbollah supply routes. Even since Russia has started its military operation in Syria the Kremlin has given a special treatment to the fundamental Israeli right to defend itself.


For now, both Russia and Hezbollah are sharing their mutual interests in Syria; however, the Kremlin has no commitments to Hezbollah. Moscow only deals with Hezbollah temporarily as it is highly skeptical of Syrian army capabilities to combat extremists on its own. The Kremlin will keep shutting its eyes on Hezbollah involvement in Syria until a certain point and eventually will use all of its available leverages to halt it presence.


Moscow is taught by the American experience in Afghanistan when arming mujahedeen eventually created Al-Qaeda.


The Kremlin is very cautious in dealing with Hezbollah and other radical religious groups in order to extract geopolitical goals. Moscow likewise respects the Israeli decisions to avoid involvement into the Syrian conflict. It acknowledges that both nations share similar interests in avoiding empowerment of radical non-State actors that turn into major destabilizing forces.


Russia was among the few countries that supported the Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, as it reminded its own problems in the Northern Caucasus.


Moscow is deeply concerned that Tehran may use to moment and supply Hezbollah with highly sophisticated military equipment. Possible transfers of SA-22 surface-to-air missiles to Hezbollah might have far fetching implications for the regional security balance. This is exactly why Putin has halted the transfer of the S-300 missiles to Iran.


Despite the fact that Russia currently enjoys warm relations with Tehran their paths will imminently diverge in the future. Moscow is concerned with its pro-Shia imagery in the predominantly Sunni region as it directly impinges its soft power. The Kremlin’s policy will grow more impartial over times towards Tehran as it will be seeking ways to maintain its impartial broker stance in order to successfully engage with other regional powers.


The Kremlin does not want to perpetuate Iran’s growing influence within Syria and across the Middle East. This is another reason why Russia is still delaying supply of the S-300 air defense missiles and finds its ways to avoid doing so. Recently Tehran was accused in its inability to deliver on-time payments, as well as the Russian strategists were finding their ways in supplying older modifications of S-300 with a smaller radius.


In effect, Jerusalem understands that the United States’ gradual retreat from the region will imminently increase Russia’s influence. The Netanyahu’s administration is very sensitive in dealing with the Kremlin and acknowledges that both countries share lots of similarities in terms of perceiving the regional security setting and balance of powers.


The rising influence of Russia is behind the Netanyahu’s decision to halt its historic reconciliation with Turkey.


Putin perceived the downing of a Russian Su-24 jet as a backstabbing and it is unlikely that Russian-Turkish relations will normalize as long as Erdogan is in charge. Netanyahu understands that rapprochement if taken place is only happening because of Erdogan’s current political weakness, as well as Ankara’s bad gambles in Syria and Iraq by supporting radicals and trying to topple the Assad’s regime. The Kurdish card that Moscow is actively using now will have far fetching consequences for the Turkish domestic security and even perhaps its territorial integrity.


Netanyahu values his existing working relations with Putin and does not want to risk them by restoring collaboration with Erdogan.

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