For the last few years the Israelis had an ace in their sleeve. That was their very good relations with Russia. The two countries face as a common enemy i.e. the Islamists supported by Turkey and Qatar. Moreover Israel has given Gazrpom exclusive rights for a part of Tamar, which is Israel’s second largest gas field.
Map 1 Israeli and Cypriot Gas Fields
Russia was one of the countries that supported the creation of Israel in 1948, together with the United States. The reason Russia did that was because Israel was a socialist country, and also because the Russians believed that the alliance between the British and the Arabs would inevitably bring Israel under Russian influence. At the time the great power of the Middle East was England and not the United States. There was therefore a contradiction in Stalin’s policy. Stalin was pursuing anti-Semitic policies within Russia, but he was helping Israel with his foreign policy.
The first guns that the Israelis were using against the Arabs were bought from Czechoslovakia with Stalin’s approval of course. Moreover, even though citizens of the Soviet bloc were not allowed to travel abroad, Stalin allowed Eastern European Jews to illegally exit through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Italy, in order to go to Israel and fight the Arabs. Therefore Stalin was supplying Israel with both guns and fighters. And that’s what Israel needed.
However when socialist dictators took power in some Arab countries, the Russians became their allies, and the Israelis became French allies, because France was almost at war with the Arabs. Algeria was a French colony till 1962, and there was the France-Algerian war. There was also the issue of Gamal Nasser in Egypt, who threatened the French and the English to close the Suez Canal. The French and the English actually invaded Egypt in 1956 i.e. the Suez Crisis, in order to stop Nasser. During this operation Israel was actively on the side of France and England.
When the French and the English lost their colonies, and the Americans became the dominant power in the Middle East, the French and the English did not have much to gain from Israel. Instead they adopted very pro-Arab policies in order to get better deals in the energy and armaments sectors. In the 1960’s, under Kennedy, the special relationship between the US and Israel developed. This special relationship would only be tested in the 21st century.
Anyway what is important is that the good relations between the Israelis and the Russians were broken very soon after Israel’s creation, and were only revived in 21st century under Putin. After the Russians became allies with the socialist dictators of the Arab countries i.e. Qaddafi in Libya, Nasser in Egypt, Assad’s father in Syria, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the short lived Israeli-Russian alliance was ended. Russia became Israel’s worst enemy, because it was the Russians who were arming the Arabs, the Arab Palestinians, and later the Iranians too. The Iranians were armed by China too, because China was always promoting the China-Pakistan-Iran axis.
Russia was also very actively promoting Jewish conspiracy theories. Russia had a great tradition in anti-Semitism, and it was mainly the Jews from the Russian Empire who had fled to Germany in the 19th and 20th century that were killed by Hitler. It was in Russia that the most famous anti-Semitic book was published in the beginning of the 20th century i.e. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.
To make a long story short, the Russians were the major opponent the Israelis had to face in the 20th century, because it was the Russians who were arming their enemies. But all that changed in the 21st century, when the Israelis and the Russians had a common enemy i.e. the Islamists of Turkey and Qatar, and also when Israel gave Russia exclusive rights for a part of its second largest gas field i.e. Tamar. Putin was the first Russian President who did not spread anti-Semitism in Russia, and the first Russian President to visit Israel too.
Of course that does not mean that Russia abandoned her traditional alliances with Iran and the Arabs, but she became a lot less hostile towards Israel, to the point of course that this change of policy did not hurt Russia’s traditional alliances. The Russian help was a great gift for the Israelis. I believe that was one of the reasons the Israelis fought together with the French and the Arabs the agreement for Iran’s nuclear program. The Israelis knew that as long as Iran and the United States were enemies, the Russians would not have to worry about the loyalty of the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. But as soon as relations between the United States and Iran were restored, Russia would have to antagonize with Iran for influence in Syria and Lebanon, because Iran might not need Gazprom anymore. Once sanctions against Iran are dropped, and the foreign multinationals enter Iran, Iran could decide to reach the Mediterranean Sea without the help of Gazprom. With the huge Russian military presence in Syria, and with Russia’s enhanced alliance with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Russia sealed Syria and Lebanon. Moreover, with her increased military presence in Syria, Russia also showed Turkey and Israel that they better take Russia more seriously.
Now Iran cannot reach the Mediterranean Sea without Russia’s approval. But that’s a very big problem for Israel, because Hezbollah will be armed and supported by both Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran might antagonize about who is going to help more Bashar al Assad and Hezbollah. A very good article about the problems posed to Israel by the enhanced Russian presence in Syria is “Why Israel Should Be Worried About Russia’s Role in Syria”, October 2015, by the Washington Institute. The Washington Institute is an American think tank which focuses on Middle East. According to Washington Institute, in the past the Israelis have targeted in Syria Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah.
Map 4 Iranian Arms to Hezbollah
According to the Washington Institute the Russian-Hezbollah alliance will significantly reduce Israel’s ability to target arms supplies to Hezbollah. The Russians will claim that the arms were not intended to be used against Israel, and Israel will not be able to prove that the opposite is true, because to do so Israel would have to reveal its informers. According to Washington Institute, on the 27th September 2015 the Israelis targeted some Syrian forces very close to their borders, in order to test the Russian reactions. Putin said that he was very worried about Israel’s attacks in Syria, and the article assumes that the Russians will react a lot more if the Israelis attack a convoy with arms deeper in Syria.
Therefore the huge Russian military presence in Syria complicates things for the Israelis. Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon is much stronger than Hamas in Gaza, because Hamas is surrounded by Egypt and Israel, and the two countries do not allow Turkey, Iran and Qatar to send arms to Hamas. To be more accurate the flow of arms is under control when compared with what happens in Lebanon. Hezbollah can receive supplies from everywhere.
However now Netanyahu agreed to make the Russian state owned giant Gazprom a major party in Leviathan, the largest natural gas field of Israel, as you can read at the following article from the Australian, titled “Putin and Netanyahu to strike deal on Leviathan gas field”, October 2015. The Australian is the largest Australian newspaper. I do not know what Russia plans to do with all this natural gas, because Egypt, which would be an ideal buyer, had recently discovered a gas field even larger than Leviathan i.e. the Zohr. Leviathan holds 500+ billion cubic meters of gas and the Zohr holds 800+ bcm. However I am sure that Putin must have offered some kind of protection to Israel at the side of this deal. I do not know what kind of protection but Putin must have offered something.
The Russian presence would be also good for the American company that operates this fields i.e. Noble Energy, because Noble will be sure that Hezbollah will not dare to attack the gas fields if the Russians are involved. That does not mean of course that for the Israelis the increased Russian military presence is a good thing. It is probably a bad thing. But if this increased Russian military presence is taken for granted, the new deal is a great success for the Israelis. I hope this deal will not cause problems in the relations between Israel and the United States, because the United States is Israel’s main ally, and the only ally that can keep Israel alive. The United States should understand that Israel does not have any other option.
What I want to see is where the Russians plan to sell all this gas. Maybe to Egypt until the Zohr becomes operational? Maybe to Turkey? Maybe to Asia in order to threaten Qatar? Or is this one of the moves that the Russians very often make to confuse their rivals and put pressure on them? What is strange is that the Israeli natural gas is not for Russia as important as it used to be, since ENI discovered the Zohr in Egypt. See “ENI VS Gazrpom : A New War in the East Mediterranean Sea”?
On the other hand Russia really needs Hezbollah and Assad in Syria to seal the exit to the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore I find it a bit difficult to understand the new deal between Russia and Israel, but it is obvious that I am missing something here, and as I said we will have to wait and see.
Also keep in mind that very recently there were new oil discoveries in the Golan Heights, as you can read at the following article of the Fox News, titled “Potentially game-changing oil reserves discovered in Israel”, October 2015. The Golan Heights are of great strategic importance and were captured by Israel during the wars of 1967 and 1973. You can see the Golan Heights at the following maps.
Maybe the new oil discoveries have something to do with the new diplomatic developments. Maybe they have also played a role in the new violence outbreaks and the stabbings in Israel. Again we will have to wait and see what happens.
Also note that recently Iran increased its influence in West Bank as you can read at the following Jerusalem Post article, titled “Abbas to visit Iran in November for first time since 2012”, August 2015. The West Bank is run by the socialist Arab Palestinian organization of Fataht Bank. Hamas is the islamist Palestinian Arab organization that runs Gaza, and Fatah is the socialist Palestinian Arab organization that runs the West Bank, with the two having very problematic relations. Until recently Iran had influence mainly in Hamas and Saudi Arabia mainly in Fatah. Therefore most of the tension was coming from Hamas in Gaza. But maybe things are changing, and with the increasing Iranian influence in West Bank tension might come from there too. The Saudis are not as hostile as the Iranians are towards the Israelis, because they both fight Iran.
“Why Israel Should Be Worried About Russia’s Role in Syria”, October 2015
“Putin and Netanyahu to strike deal on Leviathan gas field”, October 2015
“Potentially game-changing oil reserves discovered in Israel”, October 2015
“Abbas to visit Iran in November for first time since 2012”, August 2015