“New World Order” – Closing Ranks in Isolation
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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