The Ukraine/Crimea crisis: ramifications for the Middle East

Yossi Alpher writes: Israel’s approximately one million Russian speakers maintain close relations with Russia. Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in the past sought (unsuccessfully) to develop a closer relationship with Russia and its “near abroad” as a counter to Israel’s strategic reliance on the US. Israel’s decision to absent itself from the recent UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea rather than vote as usual with the US presumably reflects Lieberman’s policy input.

Israeli strategic thinkers are well attuned to Russian logic regarding the need to invoke extreme measures against Islamist terrorism – one of the rationales for a beefed-up Russian presence in Crimea. Some Israeli Middle East experts find Russian expertise regarding the region more compelling and less likely to confuse ideology with interests than that of the US.

Further, precisely because the Putin government in Moscow does not pressure Jerusalem over the Palestinian issue, Russia’s assertiveness in Crimea – by ostensibly highlighting US, NATO and EU weakness there – is likely to strengthen the hand of the Israeli political right in rebuffing western peace-process-related pressures and boycott/sanction threats. In the same context the Netanyahu government, having watched how the 1994 western commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity was rendered meaningless by Russia, now has an additional rationale for refusing to buy into US and other security guarantees regarding the West Bank and Jordan Valley. On the other hand, Israeli governments since 1967 are themselves no strangers to the concept of unilateral annexation of neighbouring territory. [Continue reading…]

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