On June 7th, 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, celebrating 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. This marks the fourth time that Netanyahu has met with his Russian counterpart in the past year, three of which have been visits to Moscow. During the same time period, Netanyahu has only met with U.S president Barack Obama twice. So what motivated this seeming surge in positive relations between Israel and Russia?
Israel publically stated that the two world leaders discussed the affairs in the Middle East, including the Syrian civil war, in which Russia is involved. The two also discussed the Israeli-Arab conflict, in which Putin backed a two-state solution and Israel’s counterterrorism measures, which he hopes will work towards a “just solution” to the conflict. To the east, Netanyahu and Putin discussed the threat of the Islamic State, and Israel affirmed that it would not attack Russian jets flying close to Israel’s border with Syria.
Despite the fact that Netanyahu confirmed that “The US remains Israel’s chief ally and cannot be replaced by Russia”, it would seem that the Israeli Prime Minister’s frequent visits to Moscow are, at least partially, a recognition of the new aggressive position that Russia is playing in the Middle East, and an attempt to send a signal to the next United States president: Israel is not afraid to seek closer ties with rival Russia if the United States does not fully support it.
Netanyahu’s meetings with Putin are viewed in the context of his rocky relationship with U.S President Barrack Obama. It is no secret that the two leaders are not on the best of terms. In 2015, tensions between the two leaders grew especially heated, as Netanyahu openly criticized the Obama Administration’s Iran nuclear deal as “paving Iran’s path to the bomb”, a position Netanyahu shares with many of Obama’s domestic political opposition. On the other side of the world, Russia has fervently attempted to re-assert itself in world relations, seeking to once again become a world superpower and check the power of the United States. On that front, perhaps Netanyahu’s close ties with Putin are not an attempt to replace Washington with Moscow but an attempt to adapt to a reality in which Russia is has begun to play a more significant role in the region; Israel is attempting to forge close ties with the two main regional powers.
But with the U.S’ changing perspective on the role of its military, one cannot help but wonder whether Israel’s newfound relationship with Russia is an attempt at self-defense. In light of the U.S’ slashed defense budget and the Obama administration’s failure to deliver sharp responses on many of its threats, many allies have had to resort to taking initiative to defend themselves. Most recently, Saudi Arabia has been fighting Shia Houthi Rebels in Yemen and has been accused of secretly funding the Islamic State, as they fear that Iran’s influence in the region will check the power and stability of the Saudi state. Regardless of what one believes the United States’ role should be in international relations, it is impossible to deny that actions have consequences, and that the U.S fear of asserting its military power is reshaping alliances and the way that its allies deal with threats.