How Russia is filling the vacuum left by the United States in the Middle East

Akiva Eldar writes: Seeing the smiling face of Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, sitting comfortably in Moscow on Jan. 17 alongside senior Fatah official Azam al-Ahmed, it was hard not to recall the famous interview by Avigdor Liberman in April before his appointment as defense minister. In that interview, Liberman promised that if appointed, he would give Hamas 48 hours to hand over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The Yisrael Beitenu chairman threatened that if Hamas failed to acquiesce to his demand, he would recommend to Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, that he book himself a plot at a nearby cemetery. As far as anyone can tell, Haniyeh is doing well after Liberman’s first eight months in office. On the other hand, the romance between Israel and Russia, which the Moldova-born politician did everything in his power to broker, is in very bad shape.

The photo of the two senior Palestinian leaders, which did not get the coverage by Israeli media that it merited, was taken at a news conference held after three days of talks among representatives of Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other factions under the auspices of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. One can understand Israeli editors’ decision to play down the final communique from the Moscow talks announcing agreement on forming a Palestinian government of national unity and setting a date for elections in the Israeli-occupied territories. There are not enough fingers to count the number of similar announcements that ended in nothing being done. One usually says of such contacts that their importance lies in the fact that they took place. In this case, the importance of the meeting is in its venue and timing.

The official invitation to Hamas representatives to visit Moscow and prior to that Russia’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted unanimously Dec. 23 and affirming the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, constitute failures of Israeli foreign policy. One can add to these the delivery of Russian S-300 missiles to Iran, despite efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thwart the deal. Russia supported the 2015 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran and opposes Israel’s nuclear policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September 2013 that Syria’s chemical weapons had been built in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons, and that given its technological superiority, Israel does not need to maintain nuclear weapons. Zvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia, even said that year that Russia is “dragging the Israeli nuclear issue into the Mideast negotiations” and that this could signal a “change in the Russian attitude to Israel.” [Continue reading…]

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