There are many signs which make us think of a new strategic relationship between Russia and Israel in the Middle East.
In general terms, we can now assume that the Jewish State is already considering and assessing the US disengagement from the Middle East system – hence Israel is trying to define a policy to “replace” them, thus establishing connections with the Russian Federation.
Obviously the bad personal relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu carried a remarkable weight in this respect, but we are witnessing a real redefinition of all the regional geopolitical equilibria.
Also the US and EU slapdash attitude on the JCPOA, namely the Treaty on the Iranian civilian-military nuclear power, rightly criticized by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the whole Israeli establishment, had a significant influence in this regard.
Both Russia, which has already “won” its war in Syria and Israel, which has drawn all the geopolitical consequences of the “Arab springs” and the ambiguous initial US support for the anti-Assad Syrians “rebels”, are redesigning – almost alone – the new Greater Middle East map.
Whatever happens in Syria from now on, the US destiny is a progressive marginalization both in the Sunni and Shiite regions, as well as a subjection of its operations to a series of alliances (with Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) in which the United States will no longer have the clout they had until a few years ago.
As already said, the signs of a “new start” for the Russian-Israeli relations are manifold.
Suffice to think of Russia’s returning of an M48 Patton Israeli tank, captured by the Syrians in the 1982 Lebanon War near Sultan Yaakov during an ambush in which the three tank drivers were killed.
The tank was sent by Hafez el Assad to Moscow for it to be studied by the Soviet technical and intelligence services and was later placed in the Tank Museum of Kubinka.
However there is no official news about the fate of the three IDF soldiers.
Obviously President Vladimir Putin preliminary informed Bashar al-Assad of its decision and nothing prevents the current Syrian Alawite leadership from deciding, in the future, to provide to the Israeli government information about the sad fate of the three tank drivers.
Furthermore, during all Russian operations in Syria, the Russian and Israeli soldiers met regularly to exchange information and avoid duplication of efforts.
The Russians tolerated some trespassing – indeed regularly reported – of Israeli aircraft over the Golan Heights and into central Syria, while the Jewish State tolerated (having been preliminary informed) some Russian aircraft overflying its territory.
Hence it is clear that the sideline negotiations between Russia and Israel are made up of three strands, which are obviously closely interwoven.
Israel wants the Russian Federation to act as a credible mediator and power broker between Israel and the Palestinian region, because Russia is reliable for both parties.
In addition, the Jewish State does not want any transfer of military technology, information and logistics from Russia to its allies in Syria: the Hezbollah, the Iranian brigades of the Pasdaran Al Quds Force and Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Nor can we rule out that – in the coming months or years – the axis between Russia and Israel may result in redesigning regional powers in the Middle East region.
Currently those powers have neither father nor mother, and the replacement of great powers by Iran and Saudi Arabia will not last long.
They are too small and unable to create far-reaching strategic correlations.
Hence time has come for the Middle East to be anchored to a global power, which will be the Russian-Chinese axis, with Israel acting as a regional counterweight.
It is worth recalling that China has already made military flights over the Syrian territory.
The Chinese “non-interventionist” line does not mean lack of real knowledge of facts or lack of pressure and interference power.
The Russian-Israeli negotiations also imply a Russian guarantee for Israel regarding possible Iranian military operations, the marginalization of the Lebanese Shiites’ “Party of God”, a new Assad’s government not aiming at destroying the ”Zionist entity”, or the division of current Syria into three parts, with the consequent reduction of all its internal factions.
This is the US line, and partially also the line of some Israeli decision-makers.
Russia, however, thinks that the whole Southern Syria shall go back under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while Israel, along with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, believes that a mini-State in Southern Syria is fundamental for Assad and his Iranian allies to invade the Golan Heights.
However, President Putin’s offer to the Jewish State seems to be the following: if Israel accepted the “Greater Syria”, the Russian forces would remain in the Western region of the country to protect Israel against any action by Iran or Assad’s government.
This is the reason why Russia wants to reopen the political relations between Assad’s regime and Israel, so as to make the Baathist government depart from Iran’s and the Lebanese Shiites’ geopolitical line.
This is not even in its interest.
Hence this is the strategic reason for the token gesture of the restitution of the Israeli tank.
Nevertheless, there is more in the new Russian project in the Middle East and in the Israeli response to the rise of the new Russian power in the Middle East.
During Netanyahu’s visit to Russia on April 21, 2016, for example, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Russian President pointed out Russia’s interest in developing and exploiting the new offshore natural gas field known as Leviathan, which will be the real “game changer” in the Middle East in the near future.
If GazProm cooperates in the exploitation and marketing of the offshore gas field area between Haifa and the Gaza Strip, it will be vital for the Russian Federation to ensure – along with Israel – security of communications, particularly in relation to the possible Hezbollah actions from the Lebanon or the Iranian pressures on the Golan.
This new energy system will finally change the relations between Israel and Turkey, which will be the hub of the natural gas extracted from the Leviathan field, and will make the Russian oil and gas companies enter the Middle East market, thus excluding the US companies operating in Turkey and in most Sunni world.
It is worth recalling that both Iran and Qatar now operate mainly on the natural gas market, and the large Israeli Leviathan gas field could compete with many of the fiercest Muslim, Shiite or Sunni opponents of the Jewish State.
Therefore the three visits paid to Russia by Prime Minister Netanyahu over a year are essential both for Israel’s foreign policy and for its economic future.
Moreover, Israel knows that the Obama administration believes that some territories conquered by the Jewish State were annexed illegally and also this fact could bring Russia and Israel closer in the future.
Russia must maintain its presence in Ukraine and support – at international level – Crimea’s annexation.
If Israel supports Russia’s demands, it is very likely for it to support Israel’s good right to keep the Palestinian territories.
Moreover, in strictly military terms, the Jewish State fears that the presence of Russia’s advanced weaponry – such as the Iskander missile or the batteries of S-4007 carriers, sold by Russia also to Iran – would make the Syrian territory very dangerous for Israel’s security.
Hence very specific operational guarantees and a clear idea of Russian defenses eastwards and along the route of the future Leviathan pipeline will be needed to reassure Israel of the Russian Federation’s good intentions.
It is said, however, that the deployment of the Triumph S-4007 and the other Russian advanced weapons is basically a Russian cosmetic operation for “image” purposes, and some British analysts do not even believe that these news and reports are really grounded.
Nevertheless, at least since 2007 Russia has already had a listening post in place in the Golan Heights, which controls Israel’s telephone traffic (via the Internet and electronically) and, above all, its decision-making centers.
On the other hand, the Jewish State has some listening posts in the Golan Heights and in other safe areas of the Middle East region.
In other words, both President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu are playing open-face by laying all their cards on the table, being well aware of the projects and the “tacit knowledge” they have about each other.
So, considering all these conditions, in the best possible scenario Israel could:
- a) replace – in the long run – the United States with the Russian Federation as a global ally and as a presence of reference in the Middle East region.
In fact, the American ruling class is closely linked to the Saudi lobby, also from a financial and political subsidizing viewpoint.
The two wars of the US-led Coalition in Iraq have disrupted Saudi Arabia’s main enemy, namely Iran. They have placed a Western advanced military system between Saudi Arabia and its Iranian global enemy and they have finally created a center of gravity north of Saudi Arabia, which has stabilized the whole region in favor of the Saudi Sunnis.
Furthermore, b) Israel can rely on a more stable and credible mediator, namely the Russian power broker, both vis-à-vis the Palestinians and, in the long run, even in relation to the Shiite and Alawite world.
The United States have played all their cards in the Greater Middle East on the democratization and secularization of populations and regimes that have not the same culture, the same history and the same link between religion and politics as those traditionally existing in the West.
It is also worth noting that their psyops and propaganda operations were, and still are, limited and often incomprehensible for the huge Islamic masses of the Greater Middle East.
The modernization that has been successful in the current Islam, if any, is the jihad one, not the adaptation to the pro-Western and secularized cultural universe.
Not all Arabs would decide to be shahid, namely “martyrs” for Al Qaeda, but all the Arab masses celebrated – in the streets – the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon attack.
This is the new imagery and narrative with which we have to come to terms.
It is the “imaginal” – a philosophical concept developed by the orientalist Nenry Corbin, who believed that the term “imaginary” had acquired a very restricted meaning in Western philosophy – stemming from the fact that the great powers’ balance in the Middle East has been replaced by the small regional powers, which have to radicalize their ideology to hide their strategic, military and geopolitical inadequacy or failure.
Hence, since the two Iraqi wars, the United States have viewed the Eastern region under Western eyes – just to quote the title of a great novel by Joseph Conrad, initially set – incidentally – in Saint Petersburg.
A comprehensive strategy of democratization and secularization, which today has clearly failed, and to which the US ruling class cannot but respond with Thomas Jefferson’s formula: no entanglements.
But can there be a global power, with a global currency, without entanglements?
It is a paradox of the US foreign policy which cannot be solved in the short term.
Finally 3) Israel, jointly with the Russian Federation, will be able to manage its new policy of global projection outside the Middle East.
In the future, for Israel, there will be a place in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, in Central Asia, in India, even in Latin America and in some African areas.
All areas which are now in the Russian and Chinese strategic reach, while the EU is retreating even from the Mediterranean (and increases its already substantial rate of anti-Semitism) and dreams, together with the United States, of an irrational revival of the Cold War, with the current NATO operations in Poland.
It is worth noting, however, that both Crimea and Ukraine are in Russian hands, at least de facto, and that a military operation against the NATO positions along the border with the Russian Federation can be led from those areas – an operation which would be hard for NATO to oppose.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France