Can Russia act as peacemaker between Israel and Iran?

One of the interesting things about the Israeli attack on Iranian forces in Syria is the relative silence from the Russians. The first thing it shows is that Russia has no interest in adding its forces to those of Iran in some sort of unified effort, which is undoubtedly a good thing for everyone except the Iranians on the ground in Syria. Both Russia and Iran have a shared interest in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, but that doesn’t imply there is much cooperation between the two. Russia wants to retain Syria as a client state for geopolitical bragging rights, a customer for arms sales, a testing ground for weapons, and as a victory in their ongoing zero-sum struggle with the USA. Iran wants to throw its weight around the region and threaten Israel from over the border.

In that latter regard, Russia has no major beef with Israel and little interest in helping Iranian forces menace it from Syrian soil. Indeed, Russia would probably be pleased to see Iranian forces getting pummeled in Syria by Israeli planes were it not Russia’s air defence systems that were supposed to stop that sort of thing. There’s a good article on Israel’s strengthening ties with Russia in the face of Iranian attacks here, which includes the following on weapons sales:

The Israeli prime minister had a number of talking points he wanted to ensure were well-delivered to the Russian side, said a source in the Kremlin familiar with the Putin-Netanyahu meeting. The source, who spoke with Al-Monitor not for attribution, said the first point, a minor one, was Russia’s potential delivery of S-300 missile systems to Syria. Even before Netanyahu’s visit, Israel was signaling to Russia that Israel didn’t favor the delivery.

Moscow had said it was leaning toward not providing Syria with the missiles, but after a US-led strike on Syria last month, Russia isn’t ruling out the idea. Many observers interpreted a bombastically worded statement from Russia as an actual intent to deliver the weapons, but Russia probably considered it more as a deterrent against potential foreign strikes and a bargaining chip in talks with Israel and, possibly, with the United States.

If Moscow indeed goes through with the S-300 delivery, Israel will tolerate it as long as Russians maintain control over the system. If, however, the Syrian military plans to operate the missiles, Israel will have a stronger reaction, but probably not an extreme one.

“The entire Syrian air defense system is based on Soviet- and Russian-made arms. The S-300 is a more powerful system and we wouldn’t have liked its appearance. But as much as we are ready to [take on] Syrian defenses, we would be ready to see how to tackle the S-300,” former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon also revealed that there is a “hotline” between the Russian Khmeimim air base in Syria and the Israeli Kirya command center in Tel Aviv. Ya’alon served as Israel’s defense minister from 2013 until May 2016 and helped establish the deconfliction phone line shortly after Russia began its campaign in Syria. The line is thought to have helped prevent a number of serious incidents.

This probably puts Russia in a unique position to act as peacemaker between Israel and Iran:

Russia has been acting as a “political shrink,” listening to complaints and fears that Israelis and Iranians have and prescribing them prescriptions of sorts to alleviate their grief. It’s a heavy burden, but also a political resource for Russia and its regional policies. Russia also has its own interests, including in Syria, that are not necessarily aligned with those of Israel or Iran. Taking sides would be folly.

As Sean Guillory says:

Personally I don’t think this is a bad thing.


9 thoughts on “Can Russia act as peacemaker between Israel and Iran?

  1. Is this the best option or is regime change in Iran (without a US style invasion like Iraq and not like Libya) the only option for the remotest chance of peace in the middle east?

  2. I don’t know about peace in the Middle East – without Iran you’d still have had war in Syria with Russia and Turkey involved, and also ISIS – but if the people of Iran can (without US meddling in any way) get rid of their idiotic rulers and install someone sensible things will be greatly improved.

  3. When will Russia turn on Iran?

    Pre WWI Russia and Britain had carved up Iran into spheres of influence. Only WWI preserved Iranian independence. In WW2 the Soviets occupied large chunks of Iran, and with Azeris in Iran as well as independent Azerbaijan, there’s plenty of scope for Russia to make trouble for the Islamic Republic. Oh, and the Turks (and the Arabs) hate the Persians, they all hate the Kurds, and the Arabs hate the Turks.

  4. Russia’s foreign policy is complex to say the least. They manage to have more or less good working relations with just about everyone everywhere, the exceptions being the US, former Warsaw Pact countries and, lately, the UK.

    In the Middle East, they have good relations with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Egypt and Israel. In each instance, Lavrov and Putin have found some area in which each country and Russia have a common interest, and they build on that.

    The same situation exists in the Far East. Russia has working relationships with China (near ally), Japan, North and South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore …

    This is actually quite striking. The US has enemies in every region of the world, and finds itself in a near war posture in most regions.

    Of course, Russia is not a threat to anyone, neocon lies notwithstanding, and Russia abides by the treaty obligations it incurs. Much of this is of necessity, because Russian weakness v.v. the US/NATO/Japan et al. means that it would lose a shooting war.

    But still, the difference between Russian diplomacy and American “diplomacy” is striking.

  5. Before Russia entered the Syrian Civil War, the US was able to enforce no-fly zones to prevent the Syrian Arab Air Force from attacking ISIL, the most successful rebel group. Vlad told the US that if they kept on interdicting SAAF missions, he would start shooting down US warplanes. The no-fly zones disappeared very quickly and from that time on, ISIL has been steadily losing.

    Nobody knows what is going on inside Putin’s tiny little skull. His mafia has nailed Russia down so tight that you have to pay protection money to go to the loo. Russia is now a regional superpower, fine, but Putin has global ambitions as well. His aim is to end sanctions but I can’t see how that will happen when he keeps parading his Satan missiles around.

  6. I would not call Putin stupid, as Mr van der Riet does; his foreign policies, whatever their goals, seem far more successful than ours. At least he did not cause the chaos in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the MENA. The US Deep State did that. If anything, Russia is a stabilizing force in all those regions.

    His bluster is clearly in response to overt American threats, especially in Europe, and they are mild compared to Trump’s. Whether Trump’s blustering will work on North Korea and Iran remains to be seen. I think it will fail in Iran, and that China’s influence on Kim is more important than Trump’s threats. If North Korea does give up its nukes and missiles it will be because China demands it.

  7. @bob sykes

    ”Russia is a stabilizing force ”

    Indeed it is, forcing a cemetery-like sort of stability wherever it can, with social norms introduced by Batu Khan set in stone.

    Surprisingly, pretty much none of the Russian top thugs seem to want this stabilizing force applied to their own offspring, preferring to smuggle them to the deeply hated West instead.

  8. Russia has good relations with much of the world, true.

    But then so does Japan.

    It’s really easy to have good relations if you have a big chequebook and few demands. It gets you more or less nowhere.

    Russia has terrible relations with its neighbours. Those would be the ones where it makes demands. Most of its neighbours would prefer to see it in ruins, actually. Except Belarus.

    In a shooting war, I would predict more or less none of Russia’s friends to come to its aid. Belarus might, for what it’s worth.

    The rest just ain’t that sort of friend.

    The US has real friends. That it has fewer “friends” is no big loss.

  9. There’s a saying attributed to George Kennan (former US ambassador to the USSR): ‘Russia can have on its borders only vassals or enemies’.

    Pithy sayings aside, I don’t think Russia will be brokering peace between Iran and Israel in the near future. Iran is ideologically committed to a state of war with Israel. Before Khomeini’s revolution, Israel had good relations with Iran. It’s a bit like the story of Israel’s relations with Turkey, except that Erdogan’s revolution is a lot slower than Khomeini’s.

    The interesting question, I think, is to what extent do Russia’s and Iran’s interests in Syria coincide? If the Sunni insurgency is defeated, and Assad’s regime is stabilized, it may be that their common ground has shrunk considerably.

    Another interesting aspect is that Israel is explicitly acknowledging that its targets are Iranian. This is a new development. Previously, the targets were always Iranian shipments of status-quo-breaking-armaments to Hizbollah. Why the change? It makes an Iranian response much more likely, and the Iranian response could be quite deadly (e.g. AMIA bombing in Argentina in 1994). I think the answer is this: It’s a signal to Assad that he is not the target, and a signal to Russia that her interests in Syria are being respected. Turning Russia into an enemy would be a much graver consequence than provoking and Iranian terrorist attack.

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