Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Evolving Russia-Israel Relationship

Aluf Benn, in Israel's Little Cold War, about Israel's relations with Russia during and after the invasion of Georgia, touches upon how life in Israel has changed since the days of the marches for Soviet Jewry:
Israelis have always regarded Russia with a mixture of fear and admiration. After all, many of the founding fathers and mothers of the Jewish state were born in the Czarist Empire, and many were devoted socialists. More recently, Israel absorbed about one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who not only changed Israel's society profoundly, but also brought a highly visible Russian presence into public life. Russian is the unofficial third language in Israel, along with Hebrew and Arabic. Russian rock stars perform regularly in Tel Aviv and Jewish "oligarch" billionaires (some of them Putin's sworn enemies) have made a mark in the Israeli business community and real estate market. Tourism is booming on both sides.

These personal and cultural ties mark a stark contrast to the Soviet days, when there were no diplomatic ties (Moscow severed its official relation with Israel in 1967 and renewed them in 1991) and Jewish emigration was blocked. The Soviet Union was the main backer of Israel's enemies, treating the Jewish state as an American satellite in the Middle East, where Russia was a key power player since the Czars.

Now there is free travel, and Israeli leaders meet and talk to their Russian counterparts frequently. Ariel Sharon was fond of Putin's power politics and of his insistence on preserving Russia's national pride. Ehud Olmert, Israel's outgoing prime minister, traveled to the Kremlin last autumn to brief Putin personally on Israel's bombing of the suspected nuclear reactor in Syria.
Now of course, matters have become more complicated--one more issue that Tzipi Livni is going to have to deal with after she puts together a government.

Another complication will be the November elections--what would a Putin-Assad vs. Obama-Livni matchup look like?

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