Russia Might Defend Israel If Iran Launched Missile Strikes Against It


Wed, 29-12-2021 07:18 PM, Aden

Andrew Korybko (South24) 

Observers have been speculating for years about how the scenario of an Iranian-Israeli war would play out if it ever comes to pass. It’s admittedly difficult to predict how everything would unfold, but there’s a high likelihood that Russia would defend Israel if Iran ever launched missile strikes against it. Moscow’s potential role in such a conflict is rarely discussed, but more research should be commenced since the Kremlin might play the security kingmaker in that scenario. This isn’t wild theorizing either but is based upon the relevant statements of the highest-ranking Russian officials over the years and recent military moves in that possible direction. 

To be absolutely clear, Russia has no aggressive aims against Iran, nor any ambitions to actively contain it. There is no realistic chance of those two countries fighting one another since their bilateral relations are better than at any prior moment in history despite incipient differences over their shared Syrian ally’s post-war future. The Kremlin would never attack the Islamic Republic, not on its own initiative nor in order to protect Israel. It could, however, utilize its Syrian-based air defense systems to intercept any incoming Iranian missiles, the same as its hoped-for sale of similar such systems to Saudi Arabia could help the Kingdom do with respect to protecting the self-professed Jewish State. 

Russia’s 21st-century grand strategic vision is to become the supreme balancing force in Eurasia, to which end it aims to maintain the balance of power between rival pairs of countries through various means in order to encourage them to resort to political means for resolving their disputes. This paradigm is sometimes advanced through what can be described as “military diplomacy”, which refers to the direct employment of military means or strategic sales thereof to certain parties in order to maintain the aforesaid balance of power. Russia’s practice of this is different from the US’, the latter of which tries to give its allies an edge over their opponents in order to provoke regional warmongering. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin made it unambiguously clear that he’s adamantly opposed to Iran’s prior threats against Israel. The official Kremlin website’s transcript of his “Visit to Russia Today television channel” from June 2013 cites him as saying the following: “Iranian threats made towards neighboring countries, in particular Israel, threats that Israel can be destroyed, are absolutely unacceptable. This is counterproductive.” When challenged by the interviewer that he was referring to a quote that was inaccurately translated by the global media, Putin pushed back and further elaborated on his principled position. 

According to him, “It doesn’t quite matter whether it’s a proper quote or not. It means it’s best to avoid a wording that could be improperly quoted or could be interpreted differently. That’s why the focus on Iran does have a reason behind it.” This might come off as a shock to many observers who were wrongly led to believe over the years that Russia and Iran are allies in the sense of ensuring one another’s regional security, especially against the US. That’s an inaccurate assessment that’s derived from the simultaneous efforts of the Mainstream Media and Alt-Media Communities to misportray their relations in such a way, each for different ideological ends of course. 

The author compiled an extensive collection of Putin’s other largely unknown quotes about Israel in his May 2018 article titled “President Putin On Israel: Quotes From The Official Kremlin Website”. It should be read by those who are interested in learning just how close their ties have become in the past two decades of the Russian leader’s rule. Putin has regularly praised the Russian diaspora community in Israel for the role they played in bridging bilateral relations between these former Old Cold War-era rivals. Considering his track record of supporting the interests of his people all across the world, especially Russian passport-holders, he’s unlikely to let Iran threaten those in Israel with missile strikes. 

Russia has already admitted to going to great lengths to actively ensure Israel’s regional security. Following the September 2018 midair incident that Putin unforgettably attributed to “a chain of tragic circumstances”, his country’s military revealed everything that it had done for its partner up until that point. According to RT, apart from respecting their September 2015 “deconfliction mechanism” for avoiding midair incidents while Israel continues carrying out its countless strikes against the IRGC, Hezbollah, and their allies, this also included a broad array of favors. The pertinent part of that piece will now be cited below because it shines some much-needed light on the strategic closeness of their ties:

“The Russian military supported the Syrian military operation in the Golan Heights to ‘ensure there were no shelling attacks on Israeli territory’ anymore, thus allowing the UN peacekeeping mission to resume patrolling of the contested border between Syria and Israel after ‘a six-year hiatus.’

Russia also managed to secure the withdrawal of all Iran-backed groups from the Golan Heights to a ‘safe distance for Israel,’ more than 140 kilometers to the east of Syria, the spokesperson said, adding that this was done at the request of Tel Aviv. ‘A total of 1,050 personnel, 24 MLRSs and tactical missiles, as well as 145 pieces of other munitions and military equipment were withdrawn from the area,’ Konashenkov told journalists.

The Russian Defense Ministry had provided assistance in preserving Jewish sacred places and graves in the city of Aleppo. Putting Russian Special Forces soldiers' lives in danger, it also organized the search for the remains of some Israeli servicemen that died during the past conflicts in an area where the Syrian forces were combating Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) terrorists at that time.”

To sum it up, Russia helped carve out a buffer zone in southern Syria within which Iran and its allies wouldn’t be able to launch short-range missile attacks against Israel. Furthermore, Russia symbolically protected Jewish religious sites in that country too, as well as actively searched for the remains of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) members, including in the midst of battles between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and ISIS. Less than a year later, Russia succeeded in discovering, unearthing, and returning the remains of Zachary Baumel, which were given to former Prime Minister Netanyahu in April 2019. 

Less than half a year later in September 2019, Putin spoke at the annual conference of the Keren Hayesod International Jewish Charitable Foundation which was held in Moscow that year. He very proudly declared that “Russians and Israelis have ties of family and friendship. This is a true common family; I can say this without exaggeration. Almost 2 million Russian speakers live in Israel. We consider Israel a Russian-speaking country.” Since Israel is officially considered part of Russia’s “family” by Putin, he’s unlikely to do nothing if Iran were to attack it and threaten the lives of his citizens there too. 

Observers should remember that the Russian Federation isn’t the Soviet Union. Its foreign policy is strictly non-ideological nowadays as reaffirmed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in October. Anti-Zionism has absolutely no influence on its relevant policy formulation. In fact, Russian media reported in November that the country banned a Soviet-era anti-Zionist film as extremist. This might be due to the possibility that its government is beginning to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. After all, Putin declared his opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism during a topical January 2020 conference in Israel. 

The Kremlin hasn’t clarified whether it officially holds such a position but Israeli Prime Minister Bennett’s praise of Putin following their meeting in October hints that that the Russian leader’s position on the issue perfectly aligns with his partner’s. Bennett declared that “I want to tell you on behalf of our country, the whole of our people that we regard you as a very close and true friend of the State of Israel.” It’s extremely unlikely that he’d have said such a thing if there were any credible grounds to speculate that Putin supports anti-Zionism. To the contrary, he probably conflates it with anti-Semitism. 

That might explain why Putin passionately opposed Iran’s threats against Israel. If the Russian leader saw them through the anti-Zionism lense that Iran claims is driving its pertinent policy, then he might not consider them to be “unacceptable”. If he regards such threats as anti-Semitic, however, then it makes sense why he’s so strongly against them. Judaism is officially recognized as one of Russia’s traditional religions and Jews have played prominent roles in its history, which is why Putin has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and is highly sensitive towards anything that could remotely resemble it. 

Iran’s anti-Zionist ideology is why it considers Israel to be an irredeemable threat to peace and therefore considers potential strikes against it to be acceptable while Putin’s philo-Semite passion is why he regards Israel as playing the opposite role and would likely seek to defend it from any potential Iranian attacks. It’s worthwhile here to draw attention to two of his statements that were cited in the author’s earlier mentioned work. The first is from his “Opening Remarks at a Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon” in 2003 and the second is from his 2012 “Meeting with President of Israel Shimon Peres”:

“Mr Prime Minister, I think that we will have a chance to talk in more detail about the situation in the Middle East. We know that Israel strives for peace. The Jewish people have suffered a great deal over the last decades” and “it is in Russia’s national interests to secure peace and order in the Middle East, peace and order for the people of Israel. It is no accident that the Soviet Union was among the initiators and supporters of the creation of the state of Israel.”

Lavrov reaffirmed this assessment in October when he wrote in an article for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that “We are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.” Nobody can therefore realistically imagine that Russia wouldn’t defend Israel, which Putin officially considers part of his country’s “family”, if it came under Iranian missile attack.

Having explained the policy basis upon which Putin has worked to comprehensively strengthen Russia’s strategic relations with Israel over the past two decades, especially in the security sphere, it’s now time to touch upon the present geopolitical context in which this is occurring. The Biden Administration’s Obama-like pivot from the US’ traditional regional allies of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) towards renegotiating nuclear and other issues with their traditional Iranian rival has caused serious concern among many Israelis, who no longer trust the US as much as before. 

As surprising as it sounds, Russia has actually begun to do more to ensure Israel’s immediate regional security needs than even the US did under the administration of former US President Donald Trump, who’s considered to have been the most pro-Israeli American leader in history. This is proven by the raft of favors that the Russian military revealed in September 2018 following that month’s “tragic chain of circumstances” according to RT’s earlier report. By comparison, the US never did anything close to that, not to mention Russia “passively facilitating” all of Israel’s anti-Iranian strikes there over the years too. 

The author elaborated on the grand strategic calculations behind the Russian-Israeli “deconfliction mechanism” in an extended interview that he did for Iran’s Farhiktegan Daily newspaper in early 2021. The author’s answer to the second question is his most well-intended and sincere effort to impartially explain the reasons why Russia never interferes with Israel’s anti-Iranian strikes there despite occasionally condemning them in public. 

Keeping in mind the rapidly evolving regional security situation provoked by the Biden Administration’s de facto pivot away from its traditional partners and towards Iran at what the former perceives to be at their expense, there’s a certain strategic logic inherent in Russia doing its utmost to replace the US as Israel’s chief regional security provider. This is fully consistent with Putin’s two-decade-long campaign to clinch a de facto comprehensive strategic partnership with Israel, which is driven not only by shared governmental interests, but also the bridge formed between them by the Russian diaspora there. 

To return to the scenario from the start of this analysis, it therefore can’t be discounted that Russia would order its Syrian-based forces to utilize their cutting-edge S-400 (and perhaps by then, even S-500) air defense systems to shoot down incoming Iranian missiles that threaten Israel and the many Russian citizens who live there. Russia’s interest in selling similar wares to Saudi Arabia, as hinted at in early December by RT’s top military expert Mikhail Khodarenok who said that this would protect them from Houthi attacks, could create a Russian-backed regional anti-Iranian missile shield for defending Israel. 

Even if Saudi Arabia doesn’t buy those systems, its American-sourced ones and Russia’s own in Syria could cover Jordanian airspace and complement that country’s related efforts to shoot down any Iranian missiles that threaten Israel in this scenario. The reader should remember that this forecast is premised on Russia’s consistently pro-Israeli security and other policies over the past two decades that were personally pioneered by Putin himself, and that the Russian leader probably wouldn’t be able to keep a clean conscience if his Syrian-based forces did nothing while Iran threatens his people in Israel. 

Once again, it needs to be said that Russia doesn’t have any interest in getting involved in a potential Iranian-Israeli war, nor does it have any intent to ever attack the Islamic Republic either. All that Moscow aspires is to become the supreme balancing force in Eurasia, which of course includes West Asia, in order to promote political resolutions to rival pairs of countries’ disputes instead of the military ones that Washington provokes through to its divide-and-rule strategy. Putin also made it clear how “absolutely unacceptable” Iran’s anti-Israeli threats are and has a record of protecting Russians abroad. 

All of this insight converges into the scenario forecast put forth by the author in this present piece that Russia could potentially shoot down any missiles that Iran might shoot over Syria in an attempt to attack Israel. Although Syria is officially against Israel and is regularly bombed by it, Damascus has no control over what Moscow does in the bases that it has on its territory. It therefore probably wouldn’t approve of Russia’s air defense systems there shooting down any incoming Iranian missiles meant for Israel, but it would also be practically powerless to stop it. 

President Assad isn’t going to kick Russian forces out of the country due to the possibility that they might be ordered by Putin to defend his citizens in Israel from potential Iranian missile strikes, nor would the Syrian leader ever consider having the SAA attack their Russian allies there to stop that from happening. It’s also unrealistic to expect the IRGC, Hezbollah, and their other allies to ever succeed if they unilaterally went against the SAA’s will to attack Russian bases in that scenario too, nor would they be predicted to attempt such in any case either. 

Considering everything that was shared thus far in this analysis, it appears possible that Russia’s Syrian-based air defense forces might intercept any Iranian missiles within their targeting range that are shot towards Israel and could thus potentially threaten Russian citizens there. That doesn’t mean that this would definitely happen in such a scenario, just that it can’t be discounted for the many reasons that the author explained in this piece. Hopefully all regional actors can settle their differences through peaceful means like Russia’s balancing act envisions and the author’s theory won’t ever be put to the test. 

Andrew Korybko

Moscow-based American political analyst

Photo: A meeting of the Russian President and Israeli Prime Minister Bennett, in Sochi, October 22, 2021 (official)