[Marxism] Russia and Israel confirm their relations “are flourishing in an unprecedented manner”

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Sat Feb 6 00:17:59 MST 2016

Russia is content with Israel but wrathful toward Turkey


By M.K. Bhadrakumar on February 5, 2016 in M.K. Bhadrakumar, Middle East

Even as Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of the Russian 
parliament and a prominent politician in the Kremlin circles, took off 
from Moscow on Tuesday heading a parliamentary delegation on a goodwill 
mission to Israel, the verve of the Russian-Israeli politico-military 
cooperation over Syria provided the political backdrop.
Putin and Netanyahu

Putin and Netanyahu

Amongst all the regional protagonists that Moscow grapples with in 
Syria, Israel stands on special footing – although the prevailing 
mistaken view could be that there is a 
Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi-Hezbollah axis in regional politics.

Moscow’s accommodation of Israel’s legitimate interests in Syria 
presents a study in contrast with its resolve to make a horrible example 
of Turkey for standing in the way of Pax Russiana in Syria. How does one 
explain Russia’s differentiation?

To begin with, Israel. In a departure statement in Moscow, Matviyenko 
described Russian-Israeli relations as on a steadily ascending curve. 
She said, “The fact is that relations between Russia and Israel are not 
burdened by any insurmountable problems, even more so conflicts … these 
relations develop in the line of ascent, no doubt.”

Interestingly, on the same day, in a rare briefing in Tel Aviv for the 
Knesset’s foreign affairs and defence committee, Israel’s ambassador to 
Moscow Zvi Heifetz took note that his country’s relations with Russia 
“are flourishing in an unprecedented manner.”

In the classified briefing, which, intriguingly, found its way to 
Haaretz newspaper, Heifetz was quoted as saying, “There is an open line 
between us and the Russians on every level. We made our red lines clear 
to the Russians regarding Syria and the involvement by Iran and the 
Hezbollah. When we have any concerns, we discuss them.”

Heifetz assessed that the Russian intervention stems from its own 
strategic interests. “The Russian view is that Assad creates stability, 
and therefore, they want to bolster him. Assad currently serves Russia’s 
interests, but not at any price.”

However, the punch line lay elsewhere. Heifetz disclosed that Moscow has 
assured Israel that it will not transfer any weapons to the Hezbollah 
forces fighting in Syria.

This assurance came in the wake of Syrian government forces and 
Hezbollah making territorial gains recently in the southern Syrian 
region bordering Golan Heights, which of course was possible thanks to 
Russian air cover.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly took note recently that 
Israel’s cooperation and coordination with Russia at the 
military-to-military level “works securely” and that it rests on mutual 
understanding at the political level. He said, “We acknowledge the fact 
of each other’s special interests and plan to do so that this 
coordination and absence of confrontation continue.”

Significantly, Matviyenko echoed the same opinion after her talks in Tel 
Aviv on Tuesday. She told TASS that she discussed with her Israeli 
counterpart the military cooperation between Russia and Israel over 
Syria and that Russia is content with the state of play.

To be sure, the picture changes dramatically when it comes to the 
Russian-Turkish tensions over Syria. Moscow is brow-beating Turkey. The 
brilliance of the Russian pressure tactic lies in taking care not to let 
it become a NATO issue. So far Moscow has kept a fine balance.

Both Turkey and Israel have legitimate concerns over the contours of a 
Syrian settlement and there is enough evidence of both having tried to 
turn the tide of the Syrian civil war in directions that suited them – 
which indeed involved pragmatic dealings with Islamist groups. From the 
Russian point of view, unlike Jordan or Iraq, Turkey and Israel have 
credible capability to intervene inside Syria. And both Turkey and 
Israel would have wished that Russia never intervened in Syria.

However, Israel chose to view the Russian intervention in practical 
terms once it assessed that there is a new reality next door that it 
needed to come to terms with. Turkey on the other hand held an 
ideological prism which put it in an antithetical position and precluded 
any serious effort to talk things over with Russia (which Moscow would 
have welcomed).

Whereas Israel went to great lengths to avoid skirmishes with Russian 
forces in Syria, Turkey acted belligerently by shooting down a Russian 
aircraft. The presence of the Shi’ite militia supported by Iran and the 
Hezbollah in the vicinity of the Golan Heights is no less serious a 
matter for Israel than the lengthening shadows of the Kurdish forces in 
northern Syria.

But Israel chose to work on the problem by levelling with the Russians 
so that a high degree of mutual understanding developed as to where the 
two sides’ real concerns lie, which are non-negotiable. Turkey refused 
to take such a route. All evidence shows that Russia exercised 
self-restraint vis-a-vis the Syrian Kurds (who still remain close to the 

In all this, what principally distinguishes the Turkish approach is 
President Recep Erdogan’s personal agenda. Whereas Israel could handle 
the Syrian file exclusively in terms of national security interests, 
Erdogan’s personal interests transmuted the Turkish policies. He 
experienced once already the potential of the Syrian conflict to further 
his domestic political agenda.

If whipping up nationalism and xenophobia helped him secure an absolute 
majority for the ruling party in the second round of parliamentary 
elections, Erdogan feels tempted to pursue the same trajectory to obtain 
a favourable outcome in any forthcoming national referendum to push 
through his pet project of transforming Turkey as a presidential system 
to concentrate power in his hands and ensure that he remains the ruler 
for a lifetime.

Thus, while Israel could work out a mutual understanding with Russia 
despite the big impediment posed by the latter’s close alliance with 
Iran in the Syrian conflict, Turkey utterly failed to cash in on the 
common interest it would have with Iran over curbing Kurdish 

Looking ahead, the big question is whether Russia would act as a bridge 
at some point to calm the Iran-Israel tensions. While it may seem a 
preposterous idea, the fact remains that Tehran has not shown any zest 
in painting the town red over the capture of territories in southern 
Syria bordering the Golan by the forces of the ‘resistance.’

The restraint could be tactical in the face of the all-consuming 
struggle going on against the Islamic State; it could be an early sign 
of the priorities of “New Iran”; or, it could be that the Russians gave 
a quiet word of advice to the Iranians. Maybe, all these factors have 
been at work.

Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian 
Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s 
ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He 
writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia 
Times since 2001. 

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