Putin in Israel upstages Obama, points up waning U.S. influence
Israel is rolling out the red carpet for Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit, unveiling a memorial to Russian soldiers who died in World War II, a cordial meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, a welcoming parade of top dignitaries and -- most important -- a big push to strengthen economic and strategic ties.
Putin's visit spotlights the fact that one-sixth of Israel's population is Russian-speaking -- a reminder of the mass exodus of Soviet Jews in the final stages of the Soviet Union. And these Russian immigrants have become an invaluable asset of human capital in the Jewish state, helping to lubricate relations with Moscow.
"Russian immigrants have had the most successful integration into Israel of any immigrant group," remarks Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of Independent Media Review and Analysis in Kfar Sava. "Former Russians can be found at all levels of politics, government, industry and the academic world."
In the meantime, the rise of fanatical Islamism also brought Jerusalem and Moscow closer together. Russia has an important stake in checking the spread and infiltration of radical Islam in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Bibi and Vladimir face common threats on that score.
And while Putin's visit highlights close Israeli contacts and ties to Russia, it also offers an opportunity for even closer relations in the future in a region rife with turmoil.
At the same time, it points up a corresponding weakening of U.S. influence -- most notably by an inevitable comparison with Barack Obama's failure to visit Israel on his presidential watch. While Obama was quick to visit Cairo and to reach out to the Arab world after his inauguration, he has yet to set foot in Israel three years later -- an absence that has soured many Israelis.
Furthermore, Putin's presence in Israel, coupled with Obama's absence, serves to underscore a raft of U.S. diplomatic failures in responding to the "Arab Spring" -- with the White House initially celebrating popular revolutions and then only belatedly discovering the dark side of these upheavals.
Or as Jackson Diehl, an editorial writer of the Washington Post, puts it in a June 25 column: "Obama's biggest failing in the Arab Spring is not that he chose the wrong side; it is that he has waffled back and forth. He has been consistently indecisive, irresolute and reluctant to act. As a result he has alienated both regimes and revolutionaries, and squandered U.S. leverage."
And while Obama is stumbling, Putin is only too ready to fill a strategic vacuum and boost Moscow's leverage across the region.