There is reason to be concerned about the current government’s entanglement with Russia. After creating the impression that it would not surprise the Americans with a military operation against Iran, the government has not cultivated the image of an independent nation whose desires should be considered.
The war in Ukraine continues and grows worse, escalating the danger of conflict between the nuclear powers in Eastern Europe and around the Baltic Sea and to the north. The fear that drove Finland and Sweden to seek membership in NATO, breaking the neutrality that Sweden had held for more than a century throughout two world wars, is moving Finland to forsake the extreme caution it has shown with Russia since they fought each other in World War II.
This development in itself proves that the gathering dark clouds in Europe seriously threaten the world. An important part of Russia’s nuclear missile array, for example, is positioned on submarines leaving ports in the Baltic Sea and bases in the Kola Peninsula in Russia, east of Finland. If Russia reacts as it did when Ukraine gradually began to accede to Western influence in 2014, it’s difficult to predict how it will react to an open, committed military alliance between Finland and Sweden and the United States within the NATO framework. World War II started after an imbroglio involving military alliances such as these. One of the important catalysts for the two world wars was the fate of national minorities such as the Russians in the countries that surround Russia today.
All of this threatens Israel, not only because peace for us means peace for the world, but because we, like Finland, are bordered by the Russian army. Russia’s army is to our north, where it holds an interest in the survival of the hostile, murderous regime of Bashar Assad, Iran’s ally. Russia see domination of Syria as a vital interest both because of their port at Tartous and because of Syria’s proximity to the soft belly of the Caucasus. Many other see Russia also as an ally of our enemy Iran and it is no accident that Russia is the “mediator” that is supposed to help the Biden administration restore the agreement with Iran. (The war in Ukraine, apparently, has delayed this temporarily.) Russia’s deep involvement in the nuclear agreement demonstrates the problematic nature of relations between us.
Against this backdrop, you can appreciate Benjamin Netanyahu’s achievement in stabilizing beneficial relations with Russia during his time in office, using Israel’s strength to do this. What also helped was the lesson Russian President Vladimir Putin absorbed from the historic one-sided anti-Israel nature of the Soviet Union, something that affected its influence in the Middle East at the time. It reached the point where Putin blocked an attempt by Barack Obama’s administration, during its final days, to oppose Israel with a U.N. Security Council resolution.
However, the severe global crisis and strategic polarization between Russia and the United States apparently will reduce the ability of Israeli leadership to maneuver between the two superpowers. If America and Russia become more confrontational, Israel will likely fall into conflict with Russia on our northern border because we are allied with the United States. The American Jewish community, by far the largest Jewish diaspora, is very important to us (although the diaspora in Russia is also important to us!); there are deep and strong ethical and political connections between Israel and the United States and there is a substantive strategic alliance between us, which holds even hostile administrations such as Obama’s. We haven’t the ability nor the desire not to choose a side.
We have been here before politically, for example, in World War II, of course. In the Cold War that followed, we could not have remained unaligned between the blocs even if we had wanted to. However, as our ability to maneuver is restricted, it is vital that we don’t hear irresponsible anti-Russia statements from our incapable Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Moreover, he should not become the transitional prime minister in Israel in the coming months. We need greater strategic political insight than we have seen from the current leadership in opposing an agreement with Iran.
Given the current government’s entanglement with Russia, there is cause for concern. After appearing to convey the idea it would not surprise the Americans with a military operation against Iran, the government cultivated the image of Israel as a satellite state , not one that is independent and whose objectives must be considered, and in doing so, increased the danger from Russia.