On Monday, newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem for a brief 24 hour visit. This is the first time a Russian president has visited Israel in seven years. The two countries have strong political tensions, as it is no secret that Russia provides support to Syria, and Iran—Israel’s arch nemesis. This visit might be an indication of a new Russian strategy towards Israel, but Putin will ultimately continue to stand by policies that protect Russian national interests even if it means continuing cordial relations with some of Israel’s most hated.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the future state of Syria are at the top of the leaders' agenda. Israel is pushing Russia to pressure Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, as Israel continues to preach the dangers of a possible nuclear Iran. Russia’s position on the situation could potentially influence whether or not Israel would carry out strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Yet it is unlikely that Israel will be able to persuade Russia on changing its policies towards the Islamic Republic.
However, the priority issue is the battle over the future outcome of Syria. In the struggle to define the changing Middle East, it’s quite clear the Russia wishes to prolong President Bashar Al-Assad’s reign. Russia is not looking for regime change in Syria, and Putin is hoping that he alongside China, and Iran, will be able to influence and restore order in Assad’s Syria. Putin is determined to educate and convince Israeli leaders that a disoriented, destroyed, and fragmented Syria would not benefit the interests of anyone, even Israel. On the other hand, this visit brings a clue that Russia is realizing it might not achieve its desired outcome.
To be brief, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel, are sided against Iran, Russia, and China over the outcome of Syria. Russia is a counterbalance to U.S. interests in the region, and Russia, like the U.S., Israel, and even Iran, is only trying to preserve its national interests. Not overlooking the economic ties to the region, there is a fear that there might be spillover effect from the Arab Spring into other Central Asia regions. President Putin is determined to enforce his position against external intervention in the matters of sovereign states in order to prevent any further turmoil.
Russia is seeking to expand its influence, and Putin will continue to pursue policies that favor Russian national interests in order to ensure stability in region. If Assad’s regime does fall, Russia is aware that it will have to work hard with external players to gain bargaining power over the outcome of Syria. Russia could make this a very difficult process for the U.S. and Israeli interests. Putin’s rare visit has great significance during a time of a new and emerging Middle East. This visit is not just an attempt to defend Russia’s interests, but it is to make a clear point. Russia is determined to advocate that no group or state has a right to intervene in another sovereign state’s affairs.