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Visiting Russia during the controversial legislative (Duma) elections last December, Avigdor Liberman stated that the “elections were absolutely fair, free and democratic.” Taken as an endorsement of Putin, this statement cemented the warm relationship between the two.
The relationship between the two states is founded on the realization that over a million Israeli Jews (and non-Jews) from the former Soviet Union live in Israel and have kept their traditions and heritage alive during the past two decades. The Russian-speaking community in Israel holds a wide variety of positions of influence in Israeli society. They have integrated well into Israeli economic, scientific and cultural life, and hence form a vital bridge between the two states by promoting closer ties.
The bilateral relations, however, are secondary to the wider strategic interests of the two states in the Middle East region. Radical Islam, as a by-product of the “Arab Spring” poses a threat to both Russia and Israel. Russia is concerned that the “Arab Spring” may influence and radicalize its own Muslim population. Israel is challenged by the victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in several Arab states and especially in Egypt. And Jordan as well might succumb to the Muslim Brotherhood triumph. These realities, coupled with the pro-Islamist policies of Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, present another set of challenges for both Russia and Israel.
In light of these circumstances in the Middle East, Russia considers Israel a potential asset in its efforts to deal with its economic, political, strategic, and security challenges. Israel is regarded as a strong regional power that might help Russia regain parity with the U.S. in the region. For Israel, moving Russia away from its enemies – Iran, and Syria – would greatly enhance Israel’s security.
Putin’s visit to Israel comes amid a realignment of forces in the Middle East, with Russia willing to reassess its foreign policy in order to meet emerging political challenges. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that Russia is willing to strengthen cooperation with Israel in a bid to promote its national interests. Considering the threat posed to both countries by the rise of Islamism, a Russian-Israeli partnership has the potential to benefit both countries. Moreover, in view of the rapidly changing balance of power in the Middle East, this alliance could potentially stabilize an unstable region during a time of great uncertainty.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will no doubt be weighing the possibility of a second Obama term as he meets with Putin, and that prospect alone would call for a more solid relationship with Russia.
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