Russia and the New Middle East: New initiatives and Prospects

Part I: focused on the background to USSR /Israel relations til the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Part II: reviewed the Russian courtship of Israel during the first two decades of this century.

Part III: Russia’s Predicaments both foreign and domestic

Under Vladimir Putin, Moscow is positioning itself as a center of power in world politics, capable of acting as a mediator in regional and local conflicts - something that the United States and Europe are unable to do.

Hard boiled Putin probably sees the policy of the West generally, and the USA specifically as characterized by:

* Inconsistency, unpredictability, and incompetence

Every administration since Obama has radically changed the course of the previous administration. This policy has become grotesque today under Biden. As a result, American friends and allies simply do not know what to expect from Washington.

* The spirit of Munich. Pacifying enemies and betraying friends. From the Obama administration on to Biden-Harris, interrupted by Trump, the US has embarked on a course of appeasing its enemies instead of making them pay their bills. Obama betrayed the Gulf countries and Israel to appease Iran. He betrayed Hosni Mubarak to appease the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2009, he shook hands with Gaddafi but two years later he bombed Tripoli and promoted "jihadists" in this country. He imposed sanctions against al-Sisi, who sought to draw closer to America and battled with ISIS on Sinai Peninsula. He forced Netanyahu to apologize to Erdogan for …Erdogan's own brazen provocation with Mavi Marmara near the coast of Gaza. It was a public humiliation of Israel. He also held back Israel in the Gaza war against Hamas and supported anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.

Unfortunately Trump, too, allowed the Kurds (loyal allies of the US) to be torn apart by Erdogan and his thugs. He called Erdogan "my friend", “honest, damn good leader,” "a tough man, a strong man".

The Biden-Harris administration stepped up their hostility toward Saudi Arabia further to appease Iran and its proxy, the Yemeni Houthis.

* Cowardice, weakness. The US is not ready to fulfill its own obligations. Obama was afraid to strike Syria when Assad crossed Obama's “red line,” and then let jihadists tear to pieces the American Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi. Obama left Iraq to the mercy of fate and opened the door to the atrocities of ISIS and Iran. American presidents let Erdogan systematically humiliate all the allies of America - Israel, Cyprus, Greece (not to mention the Kurds). When the Turks and Iranians slaughter the Kurds, and Erdogan sends Syrian militants to Libya, the West expresses "deep concern" and calls for a "peaceful solution to the conflict." Would you rely on a power whose contribution to the protection of world order and its allies is expressed in "deep concern"? Could you imagine British Empire the 19th century behaving in such way?

* Moralization and "double standards". Is the US really committed to protecting democracy and moral values?  Its UN Ambassador just attacked it as based on racism. Its own behavior suggests principles have little to do with US policy, If the US was protecting Kosovars from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, then why is it not protecting the Serbian minority in Kosovo who were victims of ethnic cleansing? Obama supported the Palestinians who handed out candy, danced on rooftops after 9/11 and murders American citizens. Why? Why did he support the "Muslim Brothers" in Egypt and Libya? If the US is defending "democratic values" in Saudi Arabia now, why isn't it defending those in Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Pakistan? And why did Obama leave Iranian students to the mercy of fate during the Green Revolution? Is this called "moral values"?

In any case it's not about "democratic values". It's about unpredictable preferences and ideological bias.

Unfortunately, only a madman would now trust America.

Putin is leveraging the perceived weakness of America to influence events in the Middle East.  Here are some examples.


  • acted as a successful intermediary during the escalation of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah in 2018;
  • established a coordination mechanism with Israel in Syria; and recently
  • organized a meeting between representatives of Israel and Syria at a high level, which was an unprecedented event.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat,  Syrian and Israeli officials reportedly met at Hmeimim Air Base in Syria under the auspices of Russia in December 2020.

“The Russia-sponsored meeting tackled several issues, including Israel’s demand for Iran to pull out its militias from Syria, said the Jusoor for Studies website.

"The website said the meeting included Syrian national security bureau chief Ali Mamlouk, presidential palace security aide Bassam Hassan, Israel’s former Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and commander of Russian forces in Syria, Alexander Chayko."

It was a great achievement for the Kremlin.

"The website said that “no specific agreements were reached, but it represented the beginning of Russian efforts” towards a certain objective. More meetings are expected in 2021."

On March 3/20, Al Monitor reported: “Russia as mediator could change Israel, Hamas game rules

Hamas went to the Kremlin March 2 for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“We can only guess at how senior Israeli figures would have reacted if such a visit had taken place in a European, Asian or Latin American state. But when Putin opens the Kremlin gates to Hamas, Netanyahu chooses to remain silent.

Pragmatic Reasons

Israel is a part (and a highly developed part) of the Western world, but at the same time it is not involved in the blocs and alliances directed against Russia. This is Israel's uniqueness for Putin.

So far, Israel does not participate in the sanctions against Moscow and could be a supplier of Western know-how, which Russia, is in dire need of. For example, in 2011 the Russian innovation center Skolkovo and the Israeli company Ariel R&D launched the Israel Skolkovo Gateway project for development of innovative technologies. The Russian company Rusalox has launched the production of boards for electronic devices using a patented Israeli technology; a number of Russian companies operate in the Israeli IT market.

For Russia, this is a unique way to gain knowledge and experience in the area of high-tech, where Russians are far behind the West.

For Russia, Israel, if not a friendly, is definitely not a hostile country. On the rare occasions when Israel has supported friendly countries like Georgia or Ukraine at the UN, it has always remained neutral toward Moscow. Israel has also never issued moral preaching to Russia about "human rights" and "civil liberties" which are extremely irritating to the Kremlin.

Fortunately, Netanyahu avoids following such a mediocre course.

Cultural Reasons

A huge Russian-speaking community has formed in Israel (in proportion to the country's population, it is the largest Russian diaspora in the world). Economic and cultural cooperation between Russia and the Israeli Russian community is flourishing. This community has become a bridge between the two countries. In addition to bringing the two countries closer together culturally, there are substantial economic dividends.

"Jewish influence" in Washington

In Russia, as in many other countries, the ancient myth of an influential and powerful American Jewish community is traditionally very strong. Russians know a little here about the specifics of relations between Israel and the American Jews, many of whom are basically progressive and no longer Zionist (and sometimes even anti-Zionist). The Russians still believe (sometimes on a subconscious level) that a powerful Zionist lobby with close ties to Israel is behind any American government. As absurd as it is, they believe that Israel has powerful leverage over the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon.


The mediocre diplomacy of the US under the Democrat party plays into the hands of Putin. Of course he doesn't want  to lose the opportunity this offers.

After the Obama administration ostracized the Sisi government for overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, Putin traveled to Cairo and turned Egypt into a Russian strategic ally. Amid Obama's attacks on Israel, he forged good relations with Netanyahu and created conditions for cooperation in Syria.

After Trump, contrary to his promises, left the Kurds to their fate and started withdrawing American troops from Northern Syria, Russia came there as a defender of the same Kurds. Today, as Biden turns its back on Saudi Arabia and its allies, Russia is preparing a bilateral roadmap for trade and economic cooperation with the kingdom, which includes cutting oil production. Given the financial difficulties of the US and the abandonment by the Democrats the project of pipeline from Canada, their ban on drilling new oil and gas wells on federal lands and the extraction of shale oil, this decision could have far-reaching consequences.

By political pressure, rhetoric about "human rights", appeasement of Iran and flirting with the MB, the USA is pushing the countries of the region into the arms of Russia.

And what about Israel? Without doubt, Putin will not give up Moscow's declarative traditional support for the Palestinians, but at same time he can sabotage the backstage efforts of Democrats to isolate Israel and put pressure on it, as was the case during the UN vote at the end of Obama's presidency.

Now that the US has returned to backing the Palestinians with diplomatic and financial support, Putin can reconsider his backing of the Palestinians (leaving aside the traditional rhetoric about a Palestinian state) and consider becoming a primary diplomatic supporter of Israel.  Such a move would undermine the US in the Middle East and endear Putin to the MAGA crowd in the US. Israel would be in a far better position to benefit the Russians for their support than the Palestinians are. Putin could also strongly support the Abrahamic Accords at a time when Biden is pulling back somewhat. Russian support for these accords would be warmly received by the Gulf states and Egypt. The combination of Russian diplomatic and military support and Saudi money would put great pressure on the US and Iran.

For Israel, this approach, paradoxically, could be beneficial. It would be great if Israel had Russian support to counter-balance American pressure from the Obama-Biden crowd and future Democrats. Who knows, maybe Putin can be induced to use Russia’s UN veto to protect Israel

In Syria, the Russians, like Israelis, are interested in weakening Iran. Russia will not formally recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan but at the same time it will try to prevent Iranian provocations there. At same time Russia will also contain Turkey in Syria, which is very important for Israel.

Strategically, through its empty rhetoric together with unskillful and hostile actions, the Biden administration will further bring the positions of the Arab countries and Israel closer together. To resist US pressure and the expansion of Iran and Turkey, both Arabs and Israel will have to increasingly turn to Russia for mediation. As a result of this, Russia will get a good chance to replace the USA as the most influential actor in the region.

A more predictable, careful and balanced course of the Kremlin might even be better than the policy of appeasement and the betrayal of their allies by Biden-Harris administration.

Photo credit: Dmitri Sevastopol Pixabay License

Ted Belman is the editor and publisher of Israpundit. Journalist Alexander Maistrovoy published articles in Moscow before immigrating  to Israel in 1988, and now works for Russian-language Israeli publications, including the Russian-language newspaper “Novosty Nedely.”   He has been published in several English websites including Israel National News, Jihad Watch, Сanada Free Press, Liberty Unyielding,  World Tribune and others.  He is the author of Agony of Hercules or a Farewell to Democracy (Notes of a Stranger)

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