Israel, Relations with

Israel, Relations with
   In the post–World War II era, Joseph Stalin was one of the strongest advocates for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was the first country to recognize the existence of Israel in 1948. However, Stalin’s hopes for a pliant, anti-British client state in the Middle East were dashed as Israel gravitated to the Western orbit by the mid-1950s.
   Under Nikita Khrushchev and his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, the USSR and its Eastern Bloc allies steadfastly supported Israel’s Arab neighbors in a series of wars and crises during the 1960s and 1970s. The turnabout allowed the Soviet leadership to return to its traditional anti-Zionist orientation, as well as to develop ideological, diplomatic, economic, and military ties with the Arab world, particularly Egypt, Syria, and Iraq; the KGB also surreptitiously supplied Palestinian terrorist groups with arms and training during the Cold War. During the late Soviet period, suppression of Jewish culture and refusal of emigration permits for Soviet Jews (refuseniks) further soured relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv, as well as emerging as a major stumbling block in Soviet-American diplomacy. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the ban on emigration was gradually lifted (resulting in a million Soviet Jews quitting the USSR in the last decade of its existence) and diplomatic relations were resumed. Moscow also began to retrench from its stridently pro-Arab orientation as relations with the United States improved. The new vector in Soviet Middle East policy pushed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) toward negotiation with Israel. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation restructured its relationship with Israel, abandoning ideological opposition in favor of a pragmatic approach. Israel’s economic dynamism and cultural ties with the newly settled Russophone population of Israel provided the nucleus for this new era of relations.
   Today, there are three major “Russian” parties in the Knesset, and the Russophone community has emerged as an important swing vote in national elections, a factor that allows Moscow some leverage in Israeli domestic politics. Conversely, Israel closely monitors the situation of Jews inside Russia, especially given the rising number of hate crimes on Jews that have been recorded in the past decade. Widely accepted political anti-Semitism in the Russian State Duma and elsewhere is also a concern. A number of Russian oligarchs who fell afoul of the state have fled to Israel, including the former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin; the failure to execute Russian and international arrest warrants remains an issue of contention in bilateral relations. Also troubling are Russian arms sales to and nuclear cooperation with Iran, a country where the political elite regularly commit themselves to the eradication of the Israeli state through military action. Sales of advanced missile systems to Syria are also a dampener on relations.
   Despite such concerns, Russia and Israel have collaborated on joint military and technological initiatives. Foreign trade is also brisk (approaching $2 billion), with a large number of Israeli companies investing in Moscow and other parts of Russia. In 2002, Russia resumed its historical role of arbiter in the region through its membership in the Middle East Quartet, which also includes the United Nations, the European Union, and the U.S.; the group’s aim is to mediate a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel, Russia, and the United States have all collaborated on counterterrorism issues since the September 11 attacks; Russia’s difficulty in combating radical Islamism in the North Caucasus has allowed it to find some common ground on such issues with Israel, which has significant experience in combating transnational jihad groups (both countries have been reticent to condemn one another on the “internal” issues of Chechnya and Palestine).
   In 2005, Vladimir Putin became the first Russian (or Soviet) head of state to visit Israel. He angered many Israelis, however, by inviting representatives of the Hamas movement to Moscow after their electoral victory in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and again in 2007, though Russian relations with the group were later downgraded. Shortly after Dmitry Medvyedev took office, Israeli-Russian relations grew cooler due to Israel’s close relationship with Georgia and Moscow’s decision to expand arms deals with Damascus.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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