Israel’s Strategic Importance in the New Cold War | Ely Karmon
The severe military, political and economic crisis in Ukraine, which at this stage mainly involves the United States and the whole of Europe, but which is already in practice a global crisis (China may soon join as another major player), poses serious challenges to Israel but at the same time opens up new opportunities.
At this point, it looks like the military fate of the campaign will soon be decided, despite fierce resistance from the Ukrainian people. Russian President Vladimir Putin will see the occupation of Ukraine as a resounding success, will strive to quickly replace the Kiev regime with a puppet government, and will most likely demand a referendum to determine that “the Ukrainian people want to return to the Mother Russia”. Belarus, Russia’s only ally, is not far from it either.
After a brief pause and in line with developments vis-à-vis the US and NATO, Putin will have to decide whether to continue his momentum and strongly demand ‘demilitarisation’ or even a military presence in the Baltic states. members of NATO, including some who have a Russian minority “to protect from genocide”. Moldova, whose Transdniestrian region is already under Russian influence, could be another target.
The crisis in Ukraine is only the first stage of an emerging global crisis. Already now, one can have the impression that Russian aggression has caused a historic change in the attitude of NATO member states and even neutral European countries and has led to unity and the will to militarily challenge Russia if it dares to attack any of them.
Germany to supply 1,000 anti-tank missiles and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine; The Netherlands will supply anti-tank weapons and Howitzer artillery to the attacked country; Finland and Sweden changed their long-standing policy of neutrality, announcing arms deliveries to Kiev after taking part in a NATO meeting on the situation in Ukraine. The European Union will finance the purchase of weapons for the Ukrainian government for an amount of 450 million euros, for the first time to finance weapons for a country at war, including planes, probably MiG-29 still active in the air force in Poland and Bulgaria.
Worse for Putin, in a historic policy shift, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a huge defense investment that will now rise to 2% of his country’s GDP, and this year the budget will rise to 100 billion euros. , against 47 billion last year. . “It is clear that we need to invest much more in the security of our country. In order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” Scholz said.
Back to the Cold War
Severe financial and economic sanctions, including against Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, the closure of European airspace to all Russian aircraft, the blocking of Russian state-owned propaganda media (RT – Russia Today and Sputnik), the expulsion of Russia from the Eurovision Song Contest and major football competitions, caused a 30% devaluation of the ruble and a jump in the interest rate from 9% to 20% as well as a serious attack on the image of the Putin regime.
It is worth noting in this context the cautious position of China, which expressed its support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and joined the sanctions against some Russian banks.
In fact, we return to the Cold War, this time not according to ideological inclinations but according to national geopolitical interests.
As will be recalled, during the Cold War Israel was important to the United States and NATO, the Western democratic alliance, in the strategic area of the Middle East vis-à-vis the Soviet bloc and its Arab allies. radicals.
In the new reality, Israel once again becomes a country of great strategic importance to the West, this time under improved conditions.
Militarily, Israel is stronger, despite being a NATO foreign partner but integrated into much of the organization’s exercises and a regional ally with Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Furthermore, Turkey has ceased to oppose Israel’s involvement in NATO activities.
Israel now has stable peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and warm Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and a secret but developing relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinian issue as a disturbing factor in Israeli-European relations has lost its importance due to power struggles within the Palestinian Authority over the legacy of Abu Mazen, the weakness of Hamas on the scene regional and international and a developing relationship between Israel and other Arab and Muslim countries. .
The Turkish problem
There remains the problem of the place of President Erdogan’s Turkey in this regional system. Turkey is still a member of NATO, in a crucial geopolitical position on Russia’s southern border, and maintains the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits in the Black Sea. Its relations with Russia are complex, particularly in Syria and Central Asia, after the Nagorno-Karabakh war, and its close relations with Ukraine. Lately, Turkey has strengthened its relations with the United Arab Emirates and is flirting with Egypt.
Given Erdogan’s attempt to improve relations with Israel, and despite many suspicions about his future conduct, the possibility of coordinating positions in the context of the interests of the two states in Syria should be considered.
Despite the American tendency to move away from the Middle East and focus on the confrontation with China, in the new reality, when the results of the confrontation with Russia will also affect the Asian arena, the importance of the countries of our region will increase, especially for prices and deliveries of gas and oil to Europe.
Israel’s importance as a long-standing and stable ally in a region threatened by upheaval will also increase.
Israel has two crucial strategic issues in its relationship with Russia.
The immediate problem is the Russian military presence in Syria and whether there is any risk of a change in the existing arrangements that have allowed Israel to act quite freely against attempts by Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias to establish an extraterritorial presence near the Golan Heights, and beyond, with the constant threat of the northern front.
The Russian-Syrian “air patrol” near the Golan in January and several other Russian moves in southern Syria were likely a signal from the Kremlin to Israel to act according to Russian interests in the emerging crisis in Europe, including mentioning the Golan Heights as occupied territory after Foreign Minister Lapid’s speech condemning the attack on Ukraine. We have seen the results of this in Israel’s cautious and hesitant political approach since the outbreak of the crisis.
In the medium term, Russia’s policy on the Iranian nuclear issue is also very important, given its role in the ongoing negotiations in Vienna, as a country that should absorb a large part of the enriched uranium and equipment techniques to release from Iran.
The above should not be interpreted as an attempt to cast Israel as a hostile actor against Russia in the region in general and in Syria in particular.
Israel’s main objective is to convince President Putin that its policy in Syria against Iran and its allies is a cardinal strategic necessity and that Israel will not abandon or reduce its actions against the presence and subversion of ” axis of resistance” on Syrian soil.
Israel can assure Russia of neutrality and continued close coordination regarding its activities against the “axis of resistance” which will enable the continued survival of the Assad regime, the Russian military presence there and the preservation of its interests in the country.
Russia knows well from past experiencewhile supporting the Arab States fighting Israel, that the Jewish State does not hesitate to defend its existential interests and has always found creative solutions to neutralize the threat of Soviet or Russian weapons directed against it.
Russia should also consider that its naval status in the Eastern Mediterranean has weakened due to the unification and assertion of NATO member states.
After the Turkish Foreign Minister called the Russian invasion of Ukraine a war, President Erdogan said on February 28 that Turkey would use the power granted by the 1936 Treaty of Montreux to prevent an escalation of the crisis. by restricting the passage of warships (most clearly referring to the means of the Russian Navy) through the strait from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. The move may help mend Turkey’s ties to NATO, even if it risks Russian retaliation.
Therefore, maintaining a proper relationship with Israel will be even more important for Russia in the future.
The Russian position regarding the Iranian nuclear program is more complex. It is possible that even after the signing of an international agreement, Tehran decides to acquire a military nuclear capability, as in the case of Ukraine, which dismantled its arsenal of nuclear weapons after 1994, on the basis of the commitment of the United States, Russia and Great Britain to respect its independence and sovereignty.
In addition, Iran can request and receive from Russia defensive weapons such as S-400 batteries and advanced fighter jets that will protect it from attacks on its nuclear facilities, since sanctions in this area were lifted as early as October. 2020.
Israel may be able to negotiate with Russia to find alternatives that do not strengthen Iran.
In conclusion, in the era of a new cold war, in more complex geopolitical conditions, with Russia isolated on the international scene and contested in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, it is important that Israel clearly identifies itself, politically, to the Western alliance, as already demonstrated by the decision of the Israeli government to support the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ultimately, American and European support for Israel is extremely important if and when the Iranian nuclear issue should require a military solution, perhaps in the not too distant future.
Vis-à-vis Russia, Israel must pursue an assertive policy, but respect its immediate strategic interests in Syria.