Behind the Russian-Israeli Detente

Even as Official Washington gears up for a lucrative New Cold War with Russia, America’s close “ally” Israel is finding common ground with Moscow that complicates U.S. hostility, as Zach Battat explains.

By Zach Battat

Israel can be criticized for many things, such as its lackadaisical attempts at negotiating for a two-state solution along the 1967 borders and its questionable policies towards its minorities (Arabs and others). But some in the news media have criticized the Jewish state for its recent rapprochement with Moscow, which is one position that doesn’t deserve criticism.

Given that Moscow has an interest for stability in the Middle East, this diplomatic contact shouldn’t be taken as a “bad idea” by the skeptics simply because the United States has entered a New Cold War with Russia. After all, there are reasons why Russia has an interest in Middle East stability, a goal shared by much of the world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sept. 21, 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sept. 21, 2015.

First, while the Caucasus region is not Russia proper, it is on its border and it’s a “zone of vulnerability.” Given the recent Middle East excursions or desires by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Russia has gone on high alert given that many Muslim citizens in the Caucasus countries are joining the extremist organizations that are fighting in the Middle East (and Africa).

That is the main reason why Russia came to the aid of Bashar al-Assad’s government last September in the Syrian civil war. It didn’t want to see a chaotic “Libya outcome” (best case scenario) in Syria or see the Islamic State or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the jihadist group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate) in Damascus.

Second, Russia has a large Muslim population (estimated at 12-15 percent or 16 million to 20 million ethnic Muslims) that it also fears might get radicalized. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia deems Islamic radicalization as one of its most serious challenges to ensure its own national integrity and stability.

A destabilized region will pose grave problems within Russia’s borders. Thus, it has created a strong partnership with Israel to coordinate these stabilizing efforts. However, like all great powers, it understands that a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians is also of grave importance for stability; with no deal, a potential civil war in Israel could break out, which could lead to unpredictable and detrimental results.

Security Interests

Like all other countries, Israel has its national security concerns, based on two principles: basic security and current security.

Basic security is concerned with the preservation of the very fundamentals of the Zionist enterprise — the preservation of Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people (that was the argument for disengaging from the Gaza Strip in 2005). Although, the Arab population correctly argues that under this structure, the Jewish state treats them as second-class citizens.

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Current security is about the day-to-day maintenance of the personal safety and well-being of Israelis (i.e., preventing terrorist attacks, kidnappings, etc.). Up until recently, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been dealing with neither. He feels that managing the crisis would be the best way forward but, within the last year, it seems that he’s beginning to understand that this approach would compromise Israel’s national security.

It should be noted that, as prime minister, Netanyahu teeters between two camps in his coalition. The first being the “neo-Zionist” camp, a religiously inflected extremist view for the Land of Israel and justifying the settlement project as messianic. This camp is the smaller of the two and consists about one-fifth of the Israeli population.

The second camp is more of a digressive one. It believes that Israel doesn’t have a peace partner and that Arab leaders are determined to destroy Israel and will act in that way based on their capability. To support that argument, this camp usually cites the tragedies of Jewish history as reasons not to negotiate with their Palestinian counterparts.

Which camp Netanyahu is in at the moment is anybody’s guess, but neither is amenable to a realistic peace process. Yet, Netanyahu’s recent actions would suggest that he is cooking something up.

A couple of years ago, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that the main regional players should concur on any agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It seems that Netanyahu was listening.

With Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s open conflict with Netanyahu, it was the perfect moment. In May, Netanyahu sacked Ya’alon and appointed Lieberman as defense minister in a theatrical manner.

Shortly thereafter, after “secretly” talking to Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu made amends with Turkey by signing a reconciliation deal. Subsequently, the Egyptian foreign minister arrived in Israel to discuss the Turkish deal, but also to discuss the Palestinian question.

Moscow’s Ties to Iran

So, with the main Sunni states (including Jordan) having better relations with Israel, Netanyahu shifted his focus to the Shiite states. However, having no ties with Iran and its Shiite allies, Netanyahu set his sights on Moscow as the intermediary.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 23, 2015 Tehran. (Photo from: http://en.kremlin.ru)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 23, 2015 Tehran. (Photo from: http://en.kremlin.ru)

Moscow isn’t the perfect country to broker with Iran as those mutual ties are often strained and overlap mostly because Russia and Iran seek to ensure that the Assad regime remains in power in Syria. Yet, Russia is the best option considering that the Americans are far more estranged from Iran and the two countries lack formal diplomatic relations.

The Americans also have all but given up on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Europeans recently failed to set up talks between the two sides.

So, Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the fourth time in a year, largely over security concerns about the war in Syria. But they likely discussed other matters, such as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In recent weeks, it has become public that Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will have talks at the Kremlin.

It’s unclear if some “Moscow Accords” could work, though it may be the last, best hope. Much depends on whether Netanyahu genuinely seeks some form of agreement or if this new “regional peace plan” is just another ploy for buying time.

However, with Middle East beset with sectarian conflict and the chaos spilling into Europe, where there has been a rise in anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism, Netanyahu might recognize the urgency of the moment and the grave threat to Israel’s basic national security if the West turns against the Zionist project.

For a two-state peace process to work, both Israel and a future Palestinian state (Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) need firm borders to avert a potential civil war, which would be in no one’s interest. Yet, Netanyahu has deceived Israelis and the international community before by dangling hopes for meaningful negotiations and then finding reasons why they could not go forward.

Further complicating the situation is Washington’s New Cold War with Russia, which seeks to portray every action in Moscow as negative. In this case, however, Washington should recognize that Moscow providing a platform for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a positive act.

Zach Battat is a Junior Editor for Global Brief and a PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern & African History at the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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17 comments for “Behind the Russian-Israeli Detente

  1. Evangelista
    September 7, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    Two significant points are ignored in Zach Battat’s article, one, that Russia has changed the status quo in the progress of the Israeli instigated Arabic Area Destabilization and Realignment Under Salafi Control, which has put Russia in a lynch-pin position, where it may ‘allow’-‘not allow’ “progress” in the Syrian theatre, and so must be ‘felt-out’, and maybe negotiated with, to determine its intentions and positions before elements in the operation may be continued, so that those may be adjusted to include the ‘new realities’ (note that this is the same reason Erdogan snuggled up to Putin, being cheery and chummy and wagging all over to show Turkey Russia’s for the time being and reasons unstated, ‘friend’ prior to the Turkish violation of Syrian sovereignty to attack Kurds under the gauzy veneer of “attacking ISIS”).

    Two is that Israel is today ‘home’ to a number of ex-Russian Jews who, like the Oligarchs of Ukraine, somehow came up ‘owners’ of large amounts of “ex-Soviet” (ostensibly the People of the Soviet States) property and industry and resources, which those, and ‘compatriots’ around the world, as in the USA and Europe, have been attempting to increase, expand and solidify their controls over , through, amongst other means, the taking over and “internationalizing” of the Ukrainian government, which owners Russia, and Putin, have been ‘recovering from’, taxing and aiding parties opposing to maintain their oppositions to (again, exampled in Ukraine), while the ‘compatriots’ efforts have been stalling.

    Israel, and Netanyahu today find themselves on a failing horse and want to set themselves up to, they hope, switch horses, or, at least, manage to bridge to the new horse, so they can get a tow, or not lose everything when the Western Horse they have flogged about all it will stand, fails.

    None of this has anything to do with the for standard American Consumption claptrap about Israel’s security, Mideast balance, tow-state-solution and all the rest of the pablum the American public expects and, Pavlov’s dogs style, salivates for and laps and gobbles up.

    It also has nothing to do with Iran.

    There is also no “Sunni-Shiite Divide”, except in the minds of the Guppies who swallow everything the Neo-Propagandists blow into their ears to make catch-phrases. The division is Salafi- non-Salafi. Salafi are “Ritualists”, the Islam equivalent to Christian “Puritans”, who are believers in their own beliefs which they wish, and intend, to impose, forcefully, if necessary, on everyone they are able to conquer and subdue and subject to their coercions. Wahabi is a Salafi sect. There are more Sunni in Syria than Shia, and they are fighting for the government and against Da’esh because they prefer inclusive Islam and oppose Puritan Islam, which, like all Puritanisms, is destructive and divisive.

  2. Chet Roman
    September 7, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    “Americans are far more estranged from Iran and the two countries lack formal diplomatic relations.”

    That is true but only due to the fact that the WH and Congress are controlled by the Israeli lobby and its agents.

    Talking about a two-state solution is either delusional thinking or Zionist propaganda to continue the endless occupation and perpetual negotiations that will never lead to an just resolution for the Palestinians. The author talks about Netanyahoo’s coalition’s two camps but the truth is that both are strong believers in the Zionist project to expand ME chaos so that they can continue their colonial expansion of land.

    The two-state solution is dead and its discussion only serves as a false front for war criminals like Netanyahoo and his covert/overt agents. One state for all is the only viable solution. Yes, it will be the end of the current racist state of Israel and it will be a blessing to the world.

  3. Zachary Smith
    September 5, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Israel can be criticized for many things, such as its lackadaisical attempts at negotiating for a two-state solution along the 1967 borders and its questionable policies towards its minorities (Arabs and others). But some in the news media have criticized the Jewish state for its recent rapprochement with Moscow, which is one position that doesn’t deserve criticism.

    That last remark depends upon your point of view. Israel is getting really massive amounts of free money from US taxpayers, and if it does a little cuddling and nuzzling with the Bear, it may well be able to extort even more.

    The author’s claim that Israel wants some genuine “negotiations” with the Palestinians is laughable, and I suspect he knows it even more than I do.

    In the link to the i24 propaganda site there was this:

    Other topics which may be up for discussion, the Times reports, include Russia’s sale of advanced S-300 air defense systems to Iran, which Israel has lobbied against.

    Smashing Iran, either by the preferred method of the US doing the dirty work, or by Israel flying in their shiny new & free F-35 jet planes will work out best if Iran remains relatively defenseless. I’ve no idea what Israel is dangling in front of Russia as bait. It must be pretty good stuff if the little shithole of an apartheid nation-state figures it has any kind of chance at all.

    This essay is so very chock full of BS that I’m not going to waste any more time on it except for this one tidbit.

    For a two-state peace process to work, both Israel and a future Palestinian state (Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) need firm borders to avert a potential civil war, which would be in no one’s interest.

    Has this author or any other at the Global Brief site advocated a total withdrawal from the stolen lands? Reestablishing Jordan as owner of the West Bank would provide the “firm borders” which existed before the 1967 Land Grab War.

    All that’s going to happen is silly talk/talk diversions (such as this one) while Israel builds more settlements (while hoping the lunatic settlers continue to breed like flies) and destroys more Palestinian infrastructure while terrorizing/killing more of the rightful owners. You know, establishing “facts on the ground” which will become increasingly difficult to alter as time passes.

    • Peter Loeb
      September 8, 2016 at 7:35 am

      ONE MORE THANKS Z. SMITH….

      Well said.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. Joe Tedesky
    September 5, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Read this article from Haaretz, and be amazed at how different Netanyahu is with Putin. BIbi doesn’t dare address the Russian Duma, as he did by offending Obama with his 47 applauds speech in our American congress. Russia continues to vote against Israel at the UN, even though Netanyahu kisses up to the Russian leader. There is no 3 billion dollar yearly pay off for the Russians to pay. I don’t know what to make of it, and for now I won’t even try to analyze it. What is worth noting is how different Israel is when confronting Russia. American politicians should study this, and do whatever it is Russia is doing, because it seems to working out well enough for the Russians. Maybe George Marshall was right all along.

    http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.723558

  5. Chris Chuba
    September 5, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Of course, this makes perfect sense. Putin is the only channel between Israel and Iran since the two are diplomatically isolated. Even though the two countries are obviously hostile towards each other, there are times when they do need contact and Russia is the perfect go between. I had not thought of this before.

    Oh, and of course this means that Russia must be destroyed. I don’t know what has happened to my beloved country. We have become overcome with a desire to create disorder in the name of order. Will we ever wake up from our delusion?

  6. Realist
    September 5, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Fascinating how Washington thinks it’s perfectly kosher to recruit thugs from throughout the Islamic world to overthrow Syria and, over the longer term, destabilize Russia on its Southern border regions, including the Caucasus. Yet, when Russia allows its citizens to volunteer to help protect Russian ethnics being persecuted in the Ukraine, that is Russian aggression, that is an outrage to the West. Washington’s massive hypocrisy is blatantly transparent. Mr. Obomber’s ingrained bias clearly shows.

    It’s also about time that Europe gets a clue and realises that the cause of the flood of Islamic refugees who want safe harbor in Europe but are not sympathetic to its values, setting up a clash of cultures within the EU for decades to come, is basically the fault of the United States for promoting these vicious sectarian wars to foment chaos in Russia’s neighborhood. The neocons don’t seem to care one iota that the war zone they’ve carved out is also the neighborhood of their purported allies in Europe. As long as NATO exists, the Europeans will no more control their own destiny than the hapless Islamic states being targeted by Washington for ongoing death and chaos.

    I shudder to think how awful this conflict between Islamic and Western civilisation will become when Hillary takes charge and does more of this “pivoting,” which is just a euphemism for violence and planned chaos. I doubt that Israel will ever see the logic of making peace in the region, but it may be essential that they do if humanity is to survive over the long term. If not, the Israelis will die along with everyone else in the nuclear conflagration and its aftermath of nuclear winter leaving nothing but the extremophile bacteria to start over.

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 6, 2016 at 1:26 am

      Realist you are right in bringing up what would Hillary do. Hillary should ask Obama how it feels to get treated like a turd, and how was your G20 gig? Europe is all over the map, literally, and the refugees keep coming. Now, Bibi is playing nice nice with Russia, and what’s up with that? Hillary no doubt will feel slighted and threatened and probably want to send in the marines…oh wait a Clinton uses the Aif Force and Navy, you know the rest.

      I brought it up the other day, how the benefits of a Marshall Plan, which is basically China’s ‘Silk Road Project’ far outweighs any profit from war. You actually can make friends doing it, too. Here reference Ike about how many bombs could build how many hospitals, but it’s all true. The next American leader would be wise to revamp the whole State Departments Foreign Policy away from heavy military to heavy industrial. Yes, the renewable stuff, and all the next generation climate changing methods could come to life. It’s not in reach, because it’s here. All we have to do, is do it.

      If Netanyahu’s becoming friendly with Putin, and somehow the Palestintian’s along with the rest of the Middle East people’s are treated fairly, and peace is the goal, then I’m all for it. Plus, this would be a great time for America to lessen it’s services for Israel. No more vetoing any UN NPT agreement requiring an inspection of Israel’s nuclear facility. No more 3 soon to become 4.5 billion dollar defense appropriation for Israel. No more fighting the Yinon Plan for Israel. While your at it, no more funding Zionist Oligarchs in Ukraine, and relax on that Asian Pivot idea, you may not want to go down that road. As time wears on it becomes more apparent that the U.S. is about to be taught a lesson in humility. You only get out of it, what you put into it. What goes around comes around. Like Rev. Wright said, the chickens come home to roost. Even Zbigniew in his own sinister way is saying how America needs to learn how to fit in….so, Hillary read the memo it says, no more war, and no more empire! Enough is enough, says Bernie Sanders, or was it Larry David?

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 6, 2016 at 1:33 am

      Just a quick thought; maybe Netanyahu is gaming up to play referee between Hillary and Vlad. Imagine Bibi getting a Nobel, hmm strange bedfellows, maybe? Definitely something worth watching, stay tuned in.

  7. Cal
    September 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    ” the Jewish state treats them as second-class citizens.”

    That’s an understatement if there ever was one.

    But the closer Israel gets to Russia the better I like it.
    Russia is not a pushover like the US and doesn’t have a Israel Lobby.
    and will, unlike the US, act in its own interest not Israel’s.
    It was Kissinger that called the Jewish lobby traitors for destroying the détente with Russia he and Nixon were working on.

    It was about the Jewish (lobby ) groundswell of support for the Jackson-Vanik amendment, legislation that offered assistance to Soviet Jews and posed a threat to US efforts and Kissinger’s entire foreign policy strategy, detente.

    He saw the Jews sabotaging his attempt at stabilizing the world through weaving “an intersecting web of interests” between the two Cold War enemies.
    “I think that the Jewish community in this country on that issue is behaving unconscionably,” “It’s behaving traitorously.”

    Israel has no problem betraying US or throwing a monkey wrench in anything it might be doing for its own interest.
    With enough rope we can hope they hang themselves.

  8. Annie
    September 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    “Israel can be criticized for many things, such as its lackadaisical attempts at negotiating for a two-state solution along the 1967 borders and its questionable policies towards its minorities (Arabs and others).” Lackadaisical? Questionable?, Are these words to use in referencing Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and Palestinian territories? I don’t question it, it’s racist and a disgrace!

    • Christi
      September 5, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Agreed. I had an even greater problem with “lackadaisical”. Israel, under Netanyahu’s policy regarding a two-state solution is quite purposeful- there won’t be any such solution…

      • evelync
        September 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm

        I had thought so too – that under Netanyahu there was no hope for a two state solution. Certainly no solution based on any good will from Netanyahu, given his past hard line ruthlessness.
        However, if Netanyahu finally recognizes how fruitless and counter productive and even dangerous his ruthless aggression has been, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope?

        No one has held him accountable.

        But the author suggests there may be a new dynamic developing. It may be unrealistic on my part, but I sure hope that somehow it creates an opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to develop a solution which offers mutual respect, social and economic justice and opportunity for the next generations.
        A fair two state solution seems the only realistic option that has been publicly discussed.

      • Sam F
        September 6, 2016 at 12:03 pm

        There is no chance that Netanyahu would or could advance a two-state solution. That would require re-partitioning Palestine’s current resources into two viable states with shares in a DMZ to be divided after two or three generations. Both states to have viable coastline, agriculture, and infrastructure; all resource value apportioned to population.

        Such a partition requires Israel to lose size and value, on the grounds that it has unfairly developed resources stolen from Palestine, and has no fundamental right there beyond the rights of individuals. In fact it would gain stability and legitimacy despite having no legitimate right to be there. But the fascist mindset of power-for-us and we’re-the-best has infected too much of Israel for any just solution to be agreed. They will have to be forced into submission, and after so many generations of racism and manipulation of others, do not deserve international protection.

        Putin’s best bet would be to give Daesh and AlQaeda free tickets to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and southern Syria and Jordan, and then let them attack Israel. There wouldn’t be many tears in the West.

    • Peter Loeb
      September 8, 2016 at 7:28 am

      ISRAELI RACISM, EXCLUSION, COLONIALISM ETC. AS “ACHIEVEMENTS”???

      With thanks to “Annie”, many scholarly books on the successes of
      the brutal Zionist invasion of Palestine.

      One book I read mentioned casually in passing that “after
      1948, Arabs (sic) were no longer a significant
      competitor…” I wonder why???? Perhaps because
      the Palestinians aere massacred, dispossessed.had
      the homes and lands demolished and so forth.

      Unfortunately, an opera House was not built in the
      first years of the Zionist invasions as Theodore
      Herzl had assured. (He was a fan of Wagner as
      were many powerful officials of the World
      Zionist Organzation such as Arthur Rubbin who at the
      peak if the slaughter of Jews in Germany was
      considering a study of the taxonomy of Jewish noses!).
      One writer describes him as “obsessed with race
      (Gabriel Pieterberg, pp. 80-86)..

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  9. evelync
    September 5, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks Zach Battat for an extremely informative and even hopeful piece! Great work!

    • Joe B
      September 7, 2016 at 8:38 am

      A Modest Proposal

      Yes, there is now hope. Now Turkey, Iran, and Russia are well positioned to make a great peace initiative. Simply make a deal with Israel to move to Cyprus with its vastly better natural defenses as an island, at the expense of building mansions for the Cypriots in Turkey or Greece (paid for by funds lost by the US DOD). Now Turkey has Israel which it donates to Daesh and AlQaeda. Now the Sunnis of E Iraq move to Syria or ISIsrael as they please, making room for the separatist Kurds of Turkey (at some distance from Turkey). Everyone is happy.

      If the US spent on this what it has wasted in destroying the Mideast for fifteen years, it could pay these thirty million happy migrants about one hundred thousand per household plus infrastructure, a mini-mosque for every family in a thousand McMeccas.

      Now if Israel does not agree, the best thing Russia could do is to give Daesh, AlQaeda & the Chechens free tickets to south Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Gaza, and have them attack Israel. Russia arranges to “defend” Saudi Arabia and Egypt to preclude US intervention. With all those US SAMs etc, they should get past any air force and into the cities for some door-to-door exercises. Any Israeli first-use of nukes (if they really have any) would be on their own territory. Such neighbors should make Israel consider Cyprus an attractive option.

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