By Avigdor Eskin
(translated from Russian)
April 19, 2018 Anno Domini
“Such a conflict situation may arise between our forces and the Russian forces, which will turn to military operations. We need to think seriously about how to avoid a clash with the power that has fortified itself on our northern border. But if it comes to this, then it should be crowned with our victory,” the former head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevi, said in an interview with Channel Ten on Israeli television the other day.
His voice was not the only one on the issue of Russian-Israeli relations these days. The former ambassador to Russia, who until then headed the Nativ immigration service, Zvi Magen, reassured everyone these days that Russia is not in any way seeking a conflict with Israel and that it will fulfill the agreements that allowed our Air Force to freely deliver pinpoint strikes against Iranian forces and “Hezbollah” in Syria, especially in cases of the transfer of weapons of the latter for use against Israel from the territory of Lebanon. This is in return for Israel’s commitment not to act destabilizing the Assad regime.
However, the tone in Moscow and Jerusalem has changed for the worse over the past week, following an Israeli air strike on Iranian military positions at an air force base, known as T-4, near Homs, where Syrian and Russian troops are also stationed.
The largest Israeli expert on the work of the world’s intelligence services, Yossi Melman, wrote about this in his article in Maariva that the Russian discontent was due to the fact that Israel did not warn its colleagues in Moscow about its plans to attack the T-4 airbase. In this context, the suspicion arose in Russia that this time Israel was acting directly in Washington’s interests, rather than defending its own national needs.
Most of all, Moscow was enraged that Israel once again demonstrated the low quality of the Russian missile defense system. If the strike was delivered without warning, it means that the Russian military on the T-4 base could not guess who exactly was bombing the air base and could not know about the good intentions of the attackers towards them. This means that the Russian defense system is ineffective. Such information for the USA is worth its weight in gold. It is one thing to report intelligence about the low quality of Russian weapons, and another is a clear manifestation of its weakness.
From this point of view, it does not matter whether Israel acted at the request of its overseas partner, or whether this shaming of the Russian military machine was an unplanned consequence of Israeli actions. Let us emphasize again: when the Russian air defense system was not activated against the Israeli raids, about which Jerusalem had notified Moscow in advance, the Russian inaction was explained by agreements with Israel. However, Russia’s failure to respond to a blow that no one had warned about, and even at the base where the Russian military was at the time of the attack, is a blow to Russia’s prestige, casting doubt on its real capabilities in the military-technical sphere.
Moscow has not yet forgotten how, during the war in Lebanon in 1982, Israel completely “neutralized” the Russian air defense system in Syria, thus teaching the most important lesson for the United States and NATO. It was an even more painful failure than the then demonstration of the superiority of the Merkava tank over Soviet tanks.
In this context, Moscow’s current anger should be understood. It can be assumed that they would not have reacted so painfully there, even if Israel had unintentionally hurt the Russian military. As we remember, the Russian side did not react in any way to the destruction by the Americans of a couple of dozen contractors from the Wagner PMC. But the illustrative Israeli raid, which demonstrated the inadequacy of the air defense system, is irreparable strategic damage and the threat of disruption of contracts for the sale of the S-300 and S-400 systems.
What do we think to ourselves there? Over the past years, Israel has behaved extremely patiently and kindly towards Moscow. We saw this just now, when Israel not only did not join the organized expulsion of Russian diplomats, but refused to condemn Russia in the case of poisoning. And this is despite clear and direct British pressure. Israeli neutrality in Crimea is also more than neutrality. Especially in light of the close collaboration with the Trump administration. Among the “rotators” of Russia in Washington, there are the most important strategic allies of Israel, but on the issue of Russia, Netanyahu openly declared and declares his disagreement with them.
Nevertheless, Moscow should pay attention not only to its understandable dissatisfaction with the latest actions of Israel, but also to the dissatisfaction boiling over in Israel with its actions and rhetoric. The harsh tone of the former head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevi, is not so much his personal predisposition to pessimism towards Russia, but is the direct result of recent Russian rhetoric.
We looked at the root of the Russian grievances, not with the aim of finding the culprits, but in the hope of improving interaction with Israel. We will now cite Israeli reproachful promises not for a cocky dispute, but in the hope of absolute hearing of those officials in Moscow who sincerely want constructive relations with Israel.
To begin with, the argument used in the Russian “TV talk” that Russia is present in Syria at the invitation of Assad, and therefore legitimate, does not sound convincing to the Israelis. Syria is at war de jure with Israel. Therefore, sending troops there to support our enemy looks worse than the arrival of thousands of Israeli soldiers to Ukraine at the invitation of Poroshenko. And this kind of support for the Poroshenko regime would hardly be regarded by Moscow as a legitimate military presence “by invitation.” And what is this “we were invited” argument? You never know who will invite someone to help during the civil war?! In addition, sometimes the Israelis feel that Moscow forgets about the distance from it to Syria and that Israel directly borders on this country. In such a situation, it would be natural to expect Moscow to reckon with Jerusalem, as Israel should do in the event of possible military co-operation with Ukraine or Georgia, for example. As you know, Israel still counts.
So what do we see on the northern border of Israel? The Russian army arrived there to destroy the sworn enemy of Russia and Israel – IS (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) and other demoniac Islamists. It does this in alliance with Assad, which is at war de jure with Israel, with Iran declaring the destruction of Israel as its credo and with Hezbollah (a terrorist organization permitted in the Russian Federation).
That is why the agreements between our countries worked so flawlessly. Despite the de jure war status, Assad is today an invaluable gift for Israel. However, since there were many unrestrained feelings in the Russian reaction to the latest Israeli strike, the Israelis’ right to living feelings should also be recognized.
Jerusalem did not understand the harshness of the Russian reaction to the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to our capital. Nor do we understand Russia’s uninterrupted anti-Israeli vote at the U.N. This undermines trust and questions good intentions.
What did the Israelis feel when, in response to the Americans’ decision to move to our capital, all the Russian state television channels went on a rampage? And this was done not only by Artyom Sheinin, the honored “Mr. Vononos” of the First Channel. The Red Banner Choir, in a single key, without dissident dissonances. Or Russia’s vote in support of UNESCO’s resolutions that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are the original Muslim and Palestinian shrines and only belong to them. Despite the fact that in Moscow they know best of all, that until the early sixties no one had heard of the existence of a separate “Palestinian” people. As you know, this successful venture was born in Moscow.
We started by saying that Israel must reckon with Russian interests in Syria. Not “just by the will of the invited” Assad, but for reasons of importance for Russia of presence there, based on its strategic objectives and needs. This understanding requires a benevolent attitude and favourable disposition towards the country of Pushkin, Berdyaev, and Rachmaninov.
However, Israel’s defense needs are even sharper and clearer there, because we directly border on Syria. We know that the Russian president is well aware of the importance of the strategic balance discussed here. However, at times it seems that the more frequent sessions of anti-Israeli television broadcasts also capture parts of the consciousness of significant figures in Russian politics.
The good news is that the Israeli-Russian experience of co-operation turned out to be useful to both sides in practice.
It is worth ventilating our common space and clearing it of the stench of ill-wishers and “nobles” of all sorts for the sake of continuing mutually beneficial interaction.