“New World Order” – Closing Ranks in Isolation

Foto: Imago Images

The Tehran-Moscow axis seems threat­en­ing, but it was born out of neces­sity and does not change much for Israel and the Middle East. However, the Russia-Israel rela­tion­ship has already dete­ri­o­rated sig­nif­i­cantly regard­less of this new “alliance”.

The photo presents a com­pletely absurd sit­u­a­tion: Iran’s Pres­i­dent Raisi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin sitting metres apart in an empty room. A photo of Aya­tol­lah Khome­ini hung on the wall. This is what the “summit” looked like, which “Tehran Times” grandly described as the “New World Order” on its front page. Basi­cally, a Western observer could laugh about the sit­u­a­tion. Two iso­lated coun­tries try to close ranks. They think they are incred­i­bly impor­tant and pow­er­ful and are actu­ally weaker than ever. Except that one of them, Putin, has thou­sands of nuclear mis­siles and the other, Raisi, is about to launch the first bomb.

Putin’s trip to the Middle East came imme­di­ately after the US President’s trip that took him to Israel, Pales­tine, and Saudi Arabia. There, Joe Biden tried to make it clear to the Israelis and Arab part­ners, for example, that Wash­ing­ton was not giving up on the Middle East. Putin tried to counter this, as he needs success at the moment. The Ukraine war has been a strate­gic debacle for him so far. He has not been able to conquer the country by march­ing through it, his army is suf­fer­ing huge losses, it is only advanc­ing with great effort, the West is still united against him and even his cynical game with wheat and gas has not yet made the EU and NATO give in. The fact that the strong man from Moscow wants to buy drones from Iran is an implicit admis­sion of how badly they have mis­cal­cu­lated in Ukraine and how weak the large Russian army has been so far in a con­ven­tional war.

Indeed, this new “alliance” should be viewed with scep­ti­cism. Russia will not easily leave Syria, where its troops are sta­tioned and control Mediter­ranean ports, to the Ira­ni­ans, who have their very own inter­ests there. The Iranian regime is still trying to estab­lish its so-called “Shiite Cres­cent” over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in order to become the absolute regional power in the region while moving ever closer to the border of the hated Zionist enemy. Putin needs the Middle East as one of the numer­ous geopo­lit­i­cal loca­tions for the eternal con­fronta­tion with the US. In doing so, the Russian navy in the Mediter­ranean, together with the Russian navy in the Arctic, serves as poten­tial “pincers” to threaten the Euro­pean West. Iran, by con­trast, needs Russia as a polit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and also eco­nomic partner. But Putin can never give Tehran what the EU and the US could offer the regime if it opted for a new nuclear deal: the lifting of sanc­tions and renewed access to Western markets, with which Russia can never compete. In this respect, the Iranian regime would at least recon­sider the inten­sity of its friend­ship with Putin if it saw a chance to do busi­ness with the West again.

This does not really create a new sit­u­a­tion for Israel. The so-called “shadow war” between Jerusalem and Tehran has long been an openly con­ducted exchange of blows by means of the mil­i­tary, proxies, and secret ser­vices. Israel’s rela­tion­ship with Russia is cur­rently dete­ri­o­rat­ing sig­nif­i­cantly, regard­less of how closely Putin coop­er­ates with Tehran or not. The increas­ingly harsh protests against Israel’s air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, which have been tol­er­ated for many years, and the pos­si­ble banning of the Israeli immi­gra­tion organ­i­sa­tion Jewish Agency in Russia have been indi­cat­ing for weeks that Putin is chang­ing his course vis-à-vis the Jewish state. It is not yet entirely clear to the current Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Yair Lapid and his people why and how. What is it really about? What bothers Putin? Is it because Lapid has sided with Ukraine, which is of course a thorn in Putin’s side? Is it even indi­rect “help” for the right-wing Ben­jamin Netanyahu? The latter does not seem so far-fetched knowing how Putin sup­ports many right-wing politi­cians and parties in Europe by means of manip­u­la­tion of social media plat­forms and money.

From the Israeli point of view, only one ques­tion is really crucial: Can the Israeli Air Force con­tinue to operate unhin­dered in Syria or not? What happens if Moscow were to sud­denly deny the Israelis air­space? Could there be a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion, air battles between Russian and Israeli fighter jets? Could Israeli F‑15s or F‑16s be shot down by Russian air defence systems? And in that case, what then? On the one hand, the Israeli army is tech­no­log­i­cally, tac­ti­cally, and numer­i­cally quite capable of stand­ing up to the Russian troops in Syria, if not humil­i­at­ing them. On the other hand, this would have impli­ca­tions that would prob­a­bly cost Israel dearly. Moscow is still Moscow, whereas Jerusalem is only a “small big” player. But at the same time, it is clear that, even if it has to be diplo­mat­i­cally very careful with Putin, Israel will not give up national secu­rity inter­ests just because the Kremlin might want it that way. The choice between a con­flict with Russia or with Iranian-backed Shiite mili­tias and weapons on its own north­ern front is always likely to be unfavourable to Moscow.

The Tehran-Moscow axis was born out of neces­sity. Both players need each other at the current time. This con­nec­tion is cer­tainly not a real “friend­ship”. Putin will down­grade Tehran’s impor­tance the moment it seems useful to him. Israel has been at war with Tehran for a long time, this will not change much, no matter what the polit­i­cal con­stel­la­tions are or how they will develop. The ques­tion of how the pre­vi­ous under­stand­ing between Moscow and Jerusalem will develop further will have to be clar­i­fied bilat­er­ally above all. It will depend on two factors, i.e., what Putin thinks he can achieve for himself in the long term in the current sit­u­a­tion in the Middle East, and how strong he really is? The latter is directly related to the devel­op­ment of the war in Ukraine. Should the Russian army set out to wage a long-lasting war of attri­tion in order to bring the Ukrain­ian army to its knees by masses of men and mate­r­ial, then Putin’s forces in other regions would remain limited. Should Ukraine even succeed in cor­ner­ing the Rus­sians tac­ti­cally or mil­i­tar­ily, this would prob­a­bly open up new spaces for Israel’s own actions. But in the current sit­u­a­tion, all pre­dic­tions are only spec­u­la­tion. As it is always the case in such wars and crises, there are a lot of impon­der­ables that cannot be fore­seen. Thus, Jerusalem will have to go by sight. That is prob­a­bly all that i pos­si­ble at the moment.




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