הפגנה בתל אביב במחאה על התקיפה של רוסיה באוקראינה
Protesters demonstrating against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Tel Aviv
Photo: Tal Shahar
A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 2021

Ukraine war highlights internal divides in Mideast nations

In Israel, thousands rallied against Moscow despite officials' reluctance to do the same, while in Lebanon, Hezbollah railed against government's condemnation of Russia's invasion

Associated Press, Ynet |
Published: 03.08.22, 12:04
The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent shockwaves not only through Europe, but also in the Middle East, where Moscow has embedded itself as a key player in recent years, making powerful friends among state and non-state actors while America's influence waned.
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  • In a neighborhood of Iraq's capital of Baghdad, a gigantic poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the words, "We support Russia," was up for few hours before a security force arrived and hurriedly took it down. Then came the security directive: All public displays of Putin's pictures shall be banned.
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    A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 202
    A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 202
    A woman passes a billboard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 7, 2021
    (Photo: AP)
    In Israel, thousands, including some Russian and Ukrainian-born Israelis, rallied against the ongoing Russian onslaught of Ukraine, despite the government's initial reluctance to condemn Moscow outright, mainly due to the two countries' military coordination in Syria.
    In Lebanon, the powerful Hezbollah militia railed against the government's condemnation of Russia's attack on Ukraine, calling for neutrality.
    Political elites in the Middle East closely allied with the West are wary of alienating Russia or the U.S. and Europe. But other forces - from Shiite militia factions in Iraq, to Lebanon's Hezbollah group and Houthi rebels in Yemen - vocally support Russia against Ukraine.
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    הפגנה בתל אביב במחאה על התקיפה של רוסיה באוקראינה
    הפגנה בתל אביב במחאה על התקיפה של רוסיה באוקראינה
    Protesters demonstrating against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Tal Shahar)
    These groups are considered to be Iran's boots on the ground in the so-called anti-U.S. "axis of resistance." Putin won their backing largely because of his close ties with Tehran and his military intervention in Syria's civil war in support of President Bashar Assad.
    They see Putin as a steady, reliable partner who, unlike the Americans, does not drop his allies. In their circles, they even have an affectionate nickname for Putin "Abu Alia" which is a common name among Shiite Muslims and meant to portray a certain camaraderie.
    Meanwhile, governments are walking a tightrope.
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    yrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, Jan. 7, 2020
    yrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, Jan. 7, 2020
    Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, Jan. 7, 2020
    (Photo: AP)
    "Iraq is against the war but has not condemned it nor taken a side," said political analyst Ihsan Alshamary, who heads the Political Thought Think Tank in Baghdad. Iraq needs to remain neutral because it has shared interests with both Russia and the West, he said.
    He said Iran's allies in the region are outspokenly with Russia "because they are anti-American and anti-West and believe that Russia is their ally."
    Russia has invested up to $14 billion in Iraq and the northern Kurdish-run region, mainly focusing on the energy sector, Moscow's ambassador Elbrus Kutrashev told the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw in a recent interview.
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    Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite militant movement Hezbollah wave th group's flag during a commemoration marking the 13th anniversary of the end of the 2006 war with Israel in the southern Lebanese
    Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite militant movement Hezbollah wave th group's flag during a commemoration marking the 13th anniversary of the end of the 2006 war with Israel in the southern Lebanese
    Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite militant movement Hezbollah wave the group's flag in southern Lebanese
    (Photo: AFP)
    Iraq also maintains close ties with the U.S., but Western companies have steadily been plotting to exit from Iraq's oil sector.
    Iraq's strongest move so far came after its central bank advised the prime minister against signing new contracts with Russian companies or payments in light of U.S. sanctions. The decision will impact new Russian investment in the country, but little else, Russian industry officials said.
    Israel, meanwhile, was attempting to assist in mediations between Russia and Ukraine, as well as in mediations between Moscow and the West amid worsening sanctions.
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    ראש הממשלה, נפתלי בנט, ונשיא רוסיה, ולדימיר פוטין, נועדים לראשונה בעיר סוצ׳י, רוסיה
    ראש הממשלה, נפתלי בנט, ונשיא רוסיה, ולדימיר פוטין, נועדים לראשונה בעיר סוצ׳י, רוסיה
    Prime Minster Naftali Bennett meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin
    (Photo: GPO)
    In Lebanon, an unusually blunt Foreign Ministry statement denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused an uproar and upset the Russians, forcing the minister to clarify that Lebanon did not intend to take sides and would remain neutral.
    "They distance themselves and claim neutrality where they want, and they interfere and condemn where they want," Hezbollah lawmaker Ibrahim Moussawi wrote on Twitter, taking aim at the Foreign Ministry. "What foreign policy does Lebanon follow, and what is Lebanon's interest in that? Please clarify for us, foreign minister."
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     boxes of Russian aid supplies arrive on a Russian cargo plane after a massive explosion at the port, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2020
     boxes of Russian aid supplies arrive on a Russian cargo plane after a massive explosion at the port, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2020
    Boxes of Russian aid supplies arrive on a Russian cargo plane after a massive explosion at the port, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2020
    (Photo: AP)
    Hezbollah, which also sent thousands of fighters to neighboring Syria to shore up Assad's forces, has seized on Russia's invasion of Ukraine to portray it as an inevitable result of U.S. provocations and yet another betrayal by the United States of its allies - in this case, Ukraine.
    In Syria, where Russia maintains thousands of troops, billboards proclaiming, "Victory for Russia" popped up in areas of Damascus this week. In opposition-held areas, which still get hit by Russian airstrikes, residents hope pressure will ease on them if Russia gets bogged down in fighting in Ukraine.

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