Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All Hail President Gog!

The Great Israeli - Russian Highway is being paved: It seems the bond is greater than people thought between the Soviets and the Israelites. (intended)

Would one one million Russians be wrong? (or not be used properly - by either side!?!) Advantage: Putin! [in Bibi's court of course; = Friendship! - and why not?]

The two-day state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Israel next week will raise eyebrows. Plainly put, it comes a little too early in his presidency - he took over the office as recently as May 7 - but underscores the Russian leader's sense of priority regarding Russia-Israel relations. Its timing comes at a juncture when the two countries are apparently far apart with regard to critical issues of regional security in the Middle East - Syria and Iran - and it seems improbable that the hiatus could be bridged easily anytime soon. Yet, Putin is returning to Israel for a second visit after a gap of seven years, and he is after all a transactional, results-oriented politician. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would know for sure that Putin can be trusted to bargain hard to get the best results for Russia in any given situation, but he could also be a valuable partner, especially if United States President Barack Obama gets re-elected for a second term in the White House. The motivations on both sides - Moscow and Tel Aviv - are complex and although their priorities may vary, it stands to reason that Russia and Israel are also drawn together in a realization that a partnership between them could be beneficial and in their mutual interest by augmenting their leverage in more than one direction - and may even be a factor of regional stability in the Middle East.

What is often forgotten is that Putin always had a warm feeling toward Israel and is on record as saying as recently as the end of last year, "Israel is, in fact, a special state to us. It is practically Russian-speaking. Israel is one of the few foreign countries that can be called Russian-speaking. It's obvious that more than half of the population speaks Russian." The ostensible reason for his state visit next week is to inaugurate a memorial at Netanya to the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany. The memorial itself has come up as a result of Netanyahu's state visit to Moscow in 2010, when he agreed with Putin (then prime minister) that Israel should commemorate the Red Army's sacrifices. Netanyahu said at that time, "The memorial will express the great appreciation that we feel for the Russian people. Many Jewish Red Army veterans currently live among us, here in Israel. The memorial on the shores of Netanya will also symbolize their contribution and heroism." Putin is also, in a manner of speaking, undertaking a "private" visit to Israel. Paradoxically, while the US is considered Israel's close ally, Obama himself isn't a terribly popular figure in Israel; on the other hand, while Israel harbors misgivings bordering on disquiet about many of Russia's policies in the Middle East and considers them at times to be unfriendly and unhelpful, the high level of Putin's personal popularity among the Israelis should be a cause for envy for Obama. The point is, the million strong Russian-speaking Jewish emigrants from the territories of the former Soviet Union have integrated well into Israeli society and hold important positions in Israel's national life.

They constitute a humanitarian, cultural and economic bridge between Israel and Russia. Having said that, politics is a big divider and the main template of Putin's forthcoming visit is going to be over Syria and Iran. Briefly put, Israel and Russia find themselves in opposite camps over both those countries. Russia is opposed to foreign intervention in Syria, while the Israeli hand keeps popping up apparently fomenting violence there - the latest reports mention Israeli aircraft ferrying weapons to Kurdistan in northern Iraq (which were procured by Qatar for the use of the Syrian rebels). For its part, Israel resents Russia's military cooperation with the Syrian regime. Prima facie, it may seem there is no meeting point on Syria. But then, Russia and Israel would also have a convergence of interests in the overall stability of what is Israel's northern neighbor. Russia would apparently have more by way of shared concern with Israel than the US would have in regard of the rise of Islamism in the Middle East. While in the short-term Israel might regard a regime change in Syria as a gratifying development, it cannot but remain concerned that there could be a domino effect of any Muslim Brotherhood triumphed there. (Interestingly, Putin is heading for Jordan after his visit to Israel.)

This brings up a core aspect of Russia's "intransigence" with regard to the Syrian situation. While Western commentators look at Syria being a "client state" of Russia, they blithely overlook Russia's fear that ascendancy of radical Islam in Syria can easily spread to its extended neighborhood in Central Asia and the North Caucasus. Of course, Russia will never allow itself to frontally articulate these Manichean fears (lest it is pushed into an existential struggle vis-a-vis militant Islam), and the nearest it could come would be such as when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey wrote in an article titled "On the Right Side of History" in the Huffington Post last week: The Arab revolutions clearly show a willingness to go back to the roots of civilization that reveals itself in broad public support for the parties and movements acting under the flag of Islam. ... Such a situation is further proof that the simple (if not simplistic) binary construction of the Cold War period, described in the paradigms of East-West, capitalism-socialism, North-South, is being replaced by a multidimensional geopolitical reality. ... In practical terms, Lavrov explained, what it amounts to in the Syrian situation could have grave implications for both Russia and Israel: What seems to prevail ... are attempts to bring about regime change in Damascus as an element of a larger regional geopolitical game.

These schemes are undoubtedly targeting Iran, since a large group of States, including the USA and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] countries, Israel, Turkey and some States of the region appear to be interested in weakening that country's regional positions. An attempt to cut the Gordian knot of long-standing problems is doomed to failure. ... Irrespective of the situation concerning Iran, however, it is evident that fueling intra-Syrian strife may trigger processes that would affect the situation in the vast territory surrounding Syria in the most negative way, having a devastating impact on both regional and international security. Risk factors include loss of control over [the] Syrian-Israeli border, a worsening of the situation in Lebanon and other countries in the region, weapons falling into the "wrong hands", including those terrorist organizations, and perhaps the most dangerous of all, an aggravation of inter-faith tensions and contradictions inside the Islamic world."

Whether Putin succeeds or not in nudging Netanyahu's thought processes in the above direction, he can be expected to give it his best shot. The high probability is that Putin may not succeed in this mission. His "meaningful" conversation with Obama on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Mexico on Monday would have brought home that the US and its allies are already so far gone into the business of forcing a regime change in Syria that there is no easy turning back at this point. Again, the prospect of a "weakening" of Syria on the Middle Eastern chessboard in itself becomes a heady thought for Israel in the prevailing circumstances, and it may put a blinker on it from pondering what lies beyond, despite being so obviously challenged already by the victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in its Arab neighborhood. Ironically it may be an easier task for Putin to persuade Netanyahu to give negotiations a chance to resolve the Iran issue. Russian diplomacy worked hard in recent weeks to see that the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany] talks with Iran in Moscow on Monday didn't end up in a catastrophic failure. Talks between Iran and the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program were suspended due to what European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said were "significant gaps between ... the two positions."

An "expert-level meeting" would be held on July 3 in Istanbul, Ashton said, with a high-level meeting to follow at an unspecified date, depending on the progress of the expert-level meeting, RFE reported. If the talks finally ended on a hopeful tone on Tuesday, much of the credit would go to the behind-the-scenes Russian (and Chinese) effort. The fact that the talks are going into a third round - in Beijing or Astana - is itself a breakthrough. Beyond that, to quote the chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, the Moscow talks were "more serious, more real and beyond a mere statement of positions". Jalili is on record as saying that "Iran has no problem with transparency" - hinting that it is open to international verification - and is prepared to prove its peaceful program "technically, legally and politically". But he said, Iran's "right to access peaceful nuclear energy, particularly uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel production cycle should be recognized." It is unlikely Putin would get into detailed negotiations, but he could lend a big hand to restrain Israel from taking any precipitate action in the critical weeks ahead. Of course, the most fascinating part of the visit might come if Putin and Netanyahu get around to exchanging notes on how they weigh the prospects of their countries' relations with the US in the event of Obama securing a second term. If the body language of the Putin-Obama meeting at Mexico on Monday was anything to go by, the two leaders are at some distance away from striking the chord of a friendship. Netanyahu of course has been a victim of Obama's "tough love" and often seemed uncomfortable with the experience .

2nd Time is the charm!
-Gog and Armilos!
[At least a Bechina?]


Klishlishi said...

Don't forget that the first country to recognize the State of Israel in 1948 was the USSR, not the USA! If Stalin had not been a judophobic idiot, Zahal would today be flying Migs instead of F16s. In 1948 the Israeli ambassador to Moscow, future PM Golda Meir, unnecessarily handed over to Stalin a list of thousands of Soviet Jewish Zionists. Stalin had them immediately rounded up and shot! Beware of (internet) lists and beware of Russians: "I have never met a man more full of cunning and mischief as a monkey than Stalin!" (Winston Churchill)

in the vanguard said...

David - do your readers a favor and break up your prose into paragraphs. It's easier on the eyes and makes for a relaxing read. Gemora, is one thing, where you can keep your finger on it, but a blog-post - that's another animal.

A friendly suggestion. Kol tuv!

Anonymous said...

So Bush is no longer Gog !!!

Anonymous said...

I'm with David. I want to read the whole article but it's too much.

rabbi david katz said...

done :) ty

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