“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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