Six and a half years ago, in April 2004, a meeting took place between then-US President George W. Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The disengagement plan was finalized in that meeting, including the letters that accompanied it. A week later, several Israeli officials, including myself, were sent to several world capitals to present the plan.
I flew to Moscow, and when I met Foreign Minister Lavrov he asked me: “Why exactly did you come? After all, the disengagement plan had already been finalized and publicized, so you have nothing new to tell me. Yet I have a question for you: How come you didn’t think of seeking Russia’s advice before taking such important decision?”
This statement by the Russian foreign minister reflects the manner in which Russia responds when the US and Israel
prefer to keep it out of important decisions. Those seeking the Russian rationale behind the latest missile deal
as well as other decisions (such as the operation of Iran’s
nuclear plant in Bushehr,) need to understand that Russian acts are mostly based on three motives:
The first one – Putin’s Russia views itself as a superpower that must exert the same influence as the US. And so, if the US sells arms to Middle Eastern states (including a $60 billion deal with Saudi Arabia alone,) Russia needs to do the same.
The second one – An unwritten agreement exists between the Russian government and people, whereby the regime must ensure economic growth, while the people ensure that the regime (Putin, his close associates, and the system he established) remain intact. In order for that to happen, Russia must make use of its two advantages: The oil and gas reserves within its territory, and its ability to supply advanced weapons. Maximizing the economic benefits of the above elements requires aggressive policy.
The third one – Russia cannot reconcile itself to unilateral acts against it (and this is how it interpreted the deployment of US missiles in Poland and in the Czech Republic, as well as Bush’s and Obama’s policy of supporting Georgia.) Russia also cannot accept being ignored. The American activism in the Middle East, first on the Israeli-Palestinian track and later on the Syrian track, while involving other players (such as France and Egypt) and ignoring Russia, is intolerable to Moscow.
When Russia is being ignored, it makes sure to remind us that it possesses some influence – this time by sending advanced missiles to Syria despite American and Israeli objections.
It is impossible to bridge all the conflicts of interest between Israel and Russia, yet it will always be a mistake to ignore Russia in a blatant, insulting manner. The state of Iran’s nuclear program could have been different had the US agreed, back in 2004, to listen to Russian ideas instead of rejecting them disdainfully. Israel also erred at the time by not trying to prompt America to give Russia some due respect.
Now, just like then, we continue to anger the Russians for no reason. The Russians wish to be involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, yet we responded aggressively. In the past, following the Annapolis summit, they offered to hold the next meeting in Moscow – yet Israel firmly objected.
Several months ago, Russian President Medvedev declared that it would be proper to get Hamas involved in the peace process. Israel quickly declared that it will not agree to it under any circumstances. But why is that so? Why didn’t we say: “We laud Russia for its efforts to convince Hamas to reject the path of terror and choose a political solution to the conflict”?
In short, an approach premised on offering respect and willingness to listen and consult before undertaking important moves does not require us to compromise on any important interest, yet minimizes the incentive of a state like Russia to ignore our interests.
What may calm us down a little is the long time that usually passes between a Russian decision to sell advanced arms and its implementation. This timeframe allows both the Russians and those who wish to influence them to undertake a “reassessment.” Let’s hope that would be the case this time too.