Russian warship docks in Israel for first time

Monday, May 13, 2013 |  Yossi Aloni  

For the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, a Russian warship docked at the port city of Haifa earlier this month. The "Azov" of Russian's Black Sea Fleet came to Israel at the request of the Association of Russian War Veterans to help celebrate the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Jewish veterans of the Red Army who later immigrated to Israel were invited to participate in a ceremony aboard the massive ship.

However, there was another even more important, even historical, reason for the visit - with the looming collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, Russia is on the lookout for new Middle East alliances.

Russia has long maintained a large naval base in Tartus, the second largest port city in Syria. But with Syria's ongoing civil war likely to end in that country descending into factional warfare and chaos, Russia is concerned for its interests in the region.

Recent reports are that Moscow is searching for a new Mediterranean seaport to maintain strategic balance in the region. Russian delegations have reportedly examined Egypt and Algeria.

But Israeli officials say that the Arab Spring has changed Russia's view of Israel, and Moscow now understands that in this volatile and unpredictable region, the Jewish state is an anchor of stability.

"There are things on which we do not agree with Russia, but there is a general understanding that we defend the same principles of democracy and security," said one official in Jerusalem. "They share our concern over Islamic fundamentalism taking over the Middle East. The Russians realize now more than ever that you can rely on Israel."

The Russians very loudly publicized the Azov's visit to Israel, and their decision to mark the victory over the Nazis together with Jewish veterans. "Russia is proud of its connection to this historical event, and wants to remind everyone that we fought on the right side," read a statement from the Russians. "There is something to be understood from this for the contemporary Middle East. Where we decided to make anchor is a clear statement, both to the Israelis and the entire region."

There was a general understanding that the Azov's visit was not a one-time event, and that other Russian warships would come calling in the near future. Israelis officials did not deny that they are open to further cooperation with Moscow.

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