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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Israel's new patron?

With Israel's relations with the United States on the skids, Israel has apparently decided - wisely - to play the field. Last week, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was in St. Petersburg to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While there are plenty of disagreements between the two countries, the New York Times reports that Lieberman - a native Russian speaker who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in the late '70's - and Putin hit it off quite well.
Mr. Lieberman seemed to thrive here because he speaks not only the language of Russia, but also that of the Russian leadership. Both sides believe in a tough use of state power, according to political analysts, as well as a resolute nationalism and a willingness to act against Islamic extremism in ways that may be perceived in the West as excessive.

For example, Mr. Lieberman, who reflects the right-wing views of many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has called for Arab citizens in Israel to swear an oath of loyalty to the state. The Kremlin recently established a panel to combat what it termed attempts to falsify history in ways that demean the achievements of Russia.

Tatyana A. Karasova, head of the Israel department at the Institute for Oriental Studies in Moscow, said Mr. Putin and Mr. Lieberman had a rapport because they are both “gosudarstvenniks” — a term that derives from the Russian word for state or government and implies a person who likes wielding official power. “Putin, as a gosudarstvennik, can really understand another gosudarstvennik like Lieberman,” she said.


Russia and Israel have eliminated visa restrictions for travel between their countries, and Russian tourists now flood Israel, with Israeli executives often going the other way. Anti-Semitism in Russia still exists, but is much less widespread. Because of the immigration, Russia arguably has closer societal ties to Israel than the United States does.

(On his Russia visit, Mr. Lieberman even boasted that the immigrants so revere Russian culture that celebrations for the birthday of Pushkin would be more elaborate in Israel than in Russia itself.)

At the same time, Russia retains strong diplomatic and business interests in Arab countries and Iran that it does not want to damage. It talks to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and to the fundamentalist Hezbollah in Lebanon, despite Israeli objections.

Russia is also building a civilian nuclear power plant in Iran, and is less willing than Washington to use sanctions to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. This is a point of friction with Israel, and at least for now, it did not seem that Mr. Lieberman had much success in convincing the Kremlin to move more aggressively against Iran.

Even so, it appears that he believes that he has a better chance than other Israeli officials in wooing Moscow. And Mr. Putin indicated that Mr. Lieberman may be right.

“It is gratifying to realize that people who know more than hearsay about this country are appointed to such high posts in Israel,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Lieberman. “I hope that it will be an additional impetus for the development of Russian-Israeli relations.”

Analysts pointed to another aspect of this budding relationship: both the Kremlin and rightist Israelis nurture grievances about how they are seen in the United States and Europe.

“Both sides feel marginalized and pushed into a corner,” said Dmitri Babich, a political commentator with the state-run news agency in Moscow.

“If we look at all the criticism from the West about the Chechnya problem, it is very similar to what you hear people say in accusing the Israeli government,” he said. “Even the terms are the same — disproportionate use of force, too much collateral damage, etc. They feel that the West doesn’t realize how complex these problems are.”

Mr. Lieberman himself alluded to that confluence.

“Russia, more than anyone, is very familiar with terror,” he said. “Russia itself has suffered from double standards.”

Read the whole thing.

Israel has not been anywhere near as brutal to the 'Palestinians' as the Russians have been to the Chechens. But that's not the point. Under the guise of a 'realist' foreign policy, the Obama administration has adopted a foreign policy that leaves America's allies no realistic choice but to look elsewhere for friends. I expect to see Israeli overtures to China (to whom Israel attempted to sell weapons several years ago - a move that was vetoed by the Bush administration) and to India in the near future. Israel has no choice.

America used to be a superpower. It's not anymore.


At 3:06 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

Whatever the case, Lieberman won't make Shrillary's stupid mistake with the label on the "Reset" button - and it will be in Cyrillic.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

is Medvedev Jewish? The name sounds it?

At 4:40 PM, Blogger mitthrawnurdo said...


Israel is wise to look for other allies as the US is throwing Israel under the bus, but I don't know if a Russian/Israeli alliance is the wisest in the long term. Russia is still arming the Syrians and the Iranians and while the Putin/Lieberman rapport is certainly a good sign, the Russian demographic is long-term leaning more and more Muslim. If that holds out to be true, look for Russia to link more and more to the Islamic world.

Perhaps China would be a better long-term partner for Israel.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Findalis said...

Up until 1955 Israel received her weapons from the Soviet Union. It is too bad the Soviets destroyed that relationship since the West (especially the US) benefited greatly from their relationship with Israel.

Now history is once again playing the same role.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The Russians would like to detach Israel from the America orbit. No one fears America any more. Since Netanyahu's speech was reported as not being "adequate" for the Americans, its also a message to them as much as it was to the Palestinians.

No We Can't


At 3:54 AM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

I believe Israel should look to India as a long term friend. Israel is already well liked in India and India along with China will probably emerge as the next major powers. I believe there is the basis for a powerful symbiotic relationship between the two.


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