Israel is set on seeking new partners in the wake of the deterioration of its relations with Washington, affirmed Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs. It was with this intention in mind that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russia. His main challenge is to convince Moscow that negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program is "bad." Does this initiative have a future?
What has Israel up in arms is the negotiations taking place in Geneva between the "Big 6" (Russia, China, the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany) and Iran about the latter's gradual phasing out of its uranium enrichment program — it is to be cut by more than 20 percent — in exchange for the unfreezing of its assets in the West and an end to U.N. sanctions. Israel is concerned that the agreement in question won't do anything to prevent Iran from producing a bomb right away — specifically, within the next five to seven months. And this weapon would be aimed at Israel, whose destruction is guaranteed, according to the ayatollah, the head of the Iranian government.
However, these are emotions that are entirely characteristic of the Israeli people. The Russian government holds a fundamentally different position than that of Israel in that it isn't expressing concern over the Iranian nuclear program, insisting instead that this program has a peaceful character and encouraging its development by continuing to erect new nuclear power plants at Bushehr.
So then why has Netanyahu set sail for Moscow? For the same reason that other leaders in the region have recently graced Vladimir Putin with their presence: to attempt to use Russia to solve their problems (that is, to put pressure on Iran) in the context of the diminishing authority of the United States. And why not? After all, Russia was able to find a shrewd solution to the extremely complex Syrian situation.
"The link with our greatest strategic ally, the United States, its link with Israel, is waning,” declared Avigdor Lieberman last Wednesday, speaking at a public forum in Sderot. “We need to stop demanding, complaining, moaning and instead seek countries that are not dependent on money from the Arab or Islamic world and who want to cooperate with us in the field of innovation,” the diplomat stressed, stopping short of naming the countries he considered to be potential partners.
"Russia is one of those countries," said Evgeny Satanovskii, the head of the Institute for the Study of Israel and the Middle East, in an interview with Pravda.ru. "There is a tendency toward the explosive growth of cooperation on a large number of questions, and the cooling of relations between Netanyahu and the American administration is a very good sign for Russia. Many of the issues that could have served as breakthrough points have been undermined by the Americans. Why shouldn't we take advantage of this state of affairs? We ought to make the best of it."
Satanovskii also added that he exchanged opinions with the Israeli prime minister following his meeting with Vladimir Putin and that Netanyahu's impressions were very positive. "They really listened to each other," the analyst said. "This doesn't mean that Russia should become the focal point of Israel's strategy toward Iran and other problems, but the level of transparency and good will between Moscow and Jerusalem is unprecedented and beyond comparison with that of Jerusalem and Washington."
"Our job is to try to sway the Russians as we have been doing with all the players [in the Iranian nuclear negotiations]," said Ze'ev Elkin, Israel's deputy foreign minister in an interview on Israeli radio. "Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations."
Nevertheless, it was he who said not long ago that "Israel doesn't consider itself bounded by any sort of agreement that might be reached in Geneva, and as such it sees itself as free to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear weapon."*
Therefore, the Israelis' expectations were moderate, following the logic of "God helps those who help themselves," and if the objective was to cause a shift in the position of President Putin, then there are no signs that they were successful. On top of that, the Israeli newspaper Maariv is reporting that, "When the two men gave their joint press conference Wednesday, it appeared Putin's statement had been given to journalists in advance, and he only changed certain passages afterward to make them more palatable to Netanyahu." Yediot Aharonot, another local newspaper, remarked that Netanyahu visited Moscow with one goal in mind — to "humiliate" the United States in light of the chilling of U.S.-Israel relations over the Iranian nuclear question. "Every reader knows Putin supports and will continue to support the ayatollahs' regime in Iran," Yediot said.
So, then, in all likelihood, this is not a breakthrough in Israeli-Russian relations, but an attempt to threaten the United States with the possibility of such a breakthrough. Israel is too dependent on the Americans. They are joined at the hip by more than 3,000 agreements. And under no circumstances will Israel undertake a military operation against Iran without the approval of America. The talks between Putin and Netanyahu, just as everyone expected, concluded without fanfare. Netanyahu said that it would be beneficial to use the Syrian model for future cooperation on the Iran question: put the agreement under the control of the United Nations. And Vladimir Putin stated that he hopes that an agreement with Iran will be reached quickly.
As surprising as it is, in all of the uproar no one has taken into account the position of Ayatollah Khomeini, who has the right to veto any agreement reached by the president or government. In a speech at the beginning of November, he contended that Iran did not receive anything from the West in exchange for the suspension of its uranium enrichment program in 2003. "That act of suspending our enrichment activities brought us this advantage: it became clear that problems will not be solved by retreating, suspending enrichment activities, postponing our work and canceling many of our plans and programs. It became clear that the other side is after something else." For this reason, Iran "will not back down an iota from its rights," said the ayatollah.
It's even more of a surprise that no one has pointed out the presence of nuclear weapons in Israel, which insists on the civilized character of its government and its reluctance to be the first to use them. It's possible that Israel's national defense strategy is based on its unwillingness to allow itself to lose a war, which means that the nuclear weapons will be put into use as a last resort. And that is potentially much more dangerous than some nonexistent atomic bomb in Iran.
*Editor’s Note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be sourced.