Since the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict most of the Western states took an unprecedentedly firm stance in support of Kiev. The US and European states have put Russia under heavy economic and political pressure, at the same time providing large-scale aid to Ukraine. Alongside diplomatic support from the US and Europe, Ukraine is being supplied with arms, ammunition, mercenaries and excessive funding. Ukrainian servicemen are being trained by foreign military instructors to use advanced Western weapons. At this stage the negative consequences of siding with Ukraine, including worsening relations with Russia, are no longer relevant for the West.
Israel, on the other hand, acted cautiously. It blocked supplies of Israeli-made weapons to Ukraine and mostly abstained from direct criticism of Russia’s actions. Needless to say, this decision received mixed reaction in the West and saw Israeli authorities face multiple accusations of not doing enough and even of siding with Russia. However, this prudence is well-calculated, since preserving the fragile status-quo on Israel’s borders demands cooperation between Tel Aviv and Moscow.
The cornerstone of this alliance is Syria. Since the beginning of Moscow’s intervention in in Syria in 2015, Russia and Israel implemented the so-called deconfliction mechanism, which allows both parties to avoid escalation on the ground. Even the most serious incidents were successfully resolved thanks to the established channel of communication. This was best demonstrated by the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane that the Russian Defense Ministry blamed on the aggressive actions of the Israeli Air Force. The case was eventually mitigated, not least due to good personal relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This balanced political approach allowed the Jewish state to expertly use Russian influence to counterbalance Iran and its proxies. Dancing around the disagreements within the Moscow-Damascus-Teheran troika resulted in curbing Iranian ambitions and denied the resurgence of pro-Iranian elements along the borders. In exchange for this, Tel Aviv upholds their side of the agreements with Moscow, notably through the work of the already mentioned deconfliction mechanism.
Another track of the Russian-Israeli cooperation is Palestine. Russia maintains diplomatic relations with both key Palestinian factions; in fact their leaders occasionally visit Moscow. The latest meeting between Hamas representatives and Russian diplomats occurred on May 4. Despite Hamas’ claims about the “unique” nature of the negotiations, there was nothing out of the ordinary or noteworthy about it – apart from the timing. Indeed, the meeting happened straight after scandalous antisemitic comments made by the head of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. The remarks made by the top diplomat provoked uproar of Israeli officials. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel called these words “unforgivable,” whereas the new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett compared them to a “historic mistake.”
Under these circumstances some analysts presumed the Hamas visit might be a warning to Bennett who, unlike Netanyahu, cannot yet rely on good personal relations with the Russian leadership. It is ought to be noted that Vladimir Putin did tender an apology to Israel for Lavrov’s outburst during a phone call with Bennett.
Russia also indirectly impacts relations between Tel Aviv and other Arab states. Egypt and Jordan, which have long been cooperating with Israel in security matters, were recently joined by United Arab Emirates, Qatar and even Saudi Arabia. All of these countries collaborate with Russia in numerous domains, including OPEC+, armaments cooperation and other diplomatic initiatives. Moscow has the closest relationship with Abu Dhabi, which, along with Egypt, provides financial and material aid for the Russian operation in Libya.
Obviously, the Arab states build their foreign policies around their national interests. However, the truth is Russia was able to solidify its position in the Middle East by acting as an irreplaceable arbiter in the Syrian and Libyan crises. The rumors of Russia’s withdrawal from Syria and relocation of troops to Ukraine have been refuted both by analysts and local sources. In Syria, the only reminder of Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict is the letter “Z” painted on Russian military vehicles that participated in the May 9 parade at Hmeimim airbase. The same goes for Libya, where Russia has maintained the scale of its activity in cooperation with the UAE, according to a recent investigation by prominent Libyan analyst Jalel Harchaoui.
Under such conditions the decline of Russian influence would be disadvantageous for both Egypt and the UAE, which risk facing Turkey on their own. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is content with the current high prices of oil secured by the OPEC+ agreement. The only side benefiting from Russia’s exit from the Middle East would be Iran – a sworn enemy of Israel. That is precisely the reason behind the Israel’s cautious approach in its relationship with Moscow. Even a partial withdrawal of Russias military contingent would open up a window of opportunity Tehran has long been waiting for. Should this happen, Israel will face a completely different Syria: not that of Assad, but of Khamenei.