Israel and Ukraine — the risk of escalation



Russia is losing patience with Israel, consequently solidifying its strategic ties with the Iranian-led Axis of Resistance

Benjamin Netanyahu and those around him may not realize the impact that sending Israelis to Ukraine could have — in terms of drastically changing Russia's regional policy — given how everything is being perceived by the Kremlin, given the context evolving New Cold War.

Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia warned Israel on “certain political consequences” if it sends some of its missile systems Patriots to Ucrania through the USA, as reported by CNN recently being negotiated between the parties. This comes amid the gradual deterioration of relations between Russia and Israel since the Hamas sneak attack last year, despite President Vladimir Putin's proud and persistent philo-Semitism, which can best be seen here.

The following five pieces document the lead-up to this most recent development: (i) January 25: “Russia is concerned that Israeli strikes risk dragging Syria into the West Asian conflict”; (ii) February 6: “The new Israeli ambassador to Russia is completely wrong about Moscow’s regional policy”; (iii); March 7: "Israel's partial compliance with US anti-Russian demands risks ruining ties with Moscow”; (iv) April 19: “Russia's call for UN Security Council sanctions against Israel is a move to soft power principle-based”; (v) June 7: “Who can Russia arm as an asymmetric response to the West arming Ukraine?”

To summarize, Israel has begun to misportray Russia's balancing act in the latest conflict (the details of which can be read here) and flirting with the idea of ​​sending early warning systems to Kiev, which led Russia to intensify its rhetoric against Israel and flirt with arming the Axis of Resistance countries against its enemies. So far, this dispute has remained within the realm of mutual perceptions and rhetoric, but Israel's potential arming of Ukraine with air defense systems could lead to a reciprocal Russian arming of the Axis of Resistance.

The prerogative belongs to Israel, since it is easier for this country to indirectly arm Ukraine than for Russia to indirectly arm the Axis of Resistance. Furthermore, Benjamin Netanyahu may calculate that sending defensive weapons there will not cross Russia's political red line, but may provide him with some relief from US pressure, a subject readers can learn more about here. It's unclear whether he will follow through on what CNN recently reported, but if he does, then Nebenzia hinted that Russia's initial reaction will be political.

What he probably intended to signal was that his country might host more Hamas delegations in the future, but this time to discuss bilateral ties rather than hostage releases, as happened during previous visits since the start of the last conflict, and/or order to its media outlets that decisively promote anti-Israeli narratives. They have been pretty evenly matched so far, but that could change if the decision is made.

Another possibility is to let Syria finally use the S-300s to defend itself, although so far deny this right with the aim of promoting a de-escalated: (a) October 10, 2023: “Russia is unlikely to let Syria get involved in the latest war between Israel and Hamas”; (b) October 22, 2023: “Russia is not expected to stop Israel's attacks in Syria”; (c) October 27, 2023: “Here's Why Russia Didn't Stop or Respond to the Latest US Bombing of Syria”; (d) February 11, 2024: “Latest Israeli bombing of Syria proves Russia will not risk a wider war to stop Tel Aviv”; (e) April 11, 2024: “Russian air defenses based in Syria will not help Iran if Israel responds to its retaliation"

Russia is unlikely to immediately reverse course on this ultra-sensitive issue, having already provoked so much ire from many of its supporters in the alternative media. However, it remains an appropriate reciprocal measure if Israel arms Ukraine, although it is expected to hold off for now as there is no turning back once this authorization is granted. In that case, bilateral ties would not recover for years, thus negating all of President Vladimr Putin's hard work on this.

That said, Russia does appear to be losing patience with Israel, and it could be argued that it has much more to gain by making this long-awaited move and solidifying its strategic ties with the Iranian-led Axis of Resistance than it has to lose by cling to hopes of a regional partnership with Israel. This school of thought was virtually non-existent within Russia's policy-making communities before the last conflict, but that just goes to show how much everything has changed since then.

The rise of a pro-Resistance political faction parallels the rise of the pro-BRI faction (Belt and Road Initiative), which readers can read about here, and are practically the same due to their overlapping worldviews. Their respective rivals are the pro-Israeli and balancing/pragmatic faction, which are also practically the same this thing context regional, as they intend to avoid a potentially disproportionate regional dependence on Iran by maintaining strategic ties with Israel, even if these are to the detriment of Iran.

While Russia is recalibrating its Asian strategy, as explained on here, and thus appears to be putting a halt to the hitherto astronomical expansion of influence of the pro-BRI faction (Belt and Road Initiative), the pro-Resistance faction could receive a crucial boost if Israel sends its Patriots to Ukraine through the USA.

This could be the straw that proverbially breaks the back of policymakers and leads them to support this group's policy recommendations, which could lead to Russia authorizing Syria to use the S-300s against Israel, as explained.

To be clear, the pro-Resistance faction exists mainly only in the publicly funded Russian international media and among its associates (including informal ones), with almost no influence in its think tanks, although some are enthusiastic about its views. The pro-Israeli/balancer/pragmatic faction remains predominant and this is why the current policy has remained in place for so long, despite repeated provocations from Israel that could have led to a political change long ago if the political will had been present.

This state of affairs could change decisively, however, if Israel indirectly arms Ukraine with its Patriots. Benjamin Netanyahu and those around him may not realize how impactful it could be in terms of drastically changing Russia's regional policy, given how everything is increasingly perceived by the Kremlin, given the evolving context of Nova Cold War. Israel should therefore think twice about this, so as not to run the risk of catalyzing the worst possible scenario in relations with Russia.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression). []

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

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