Hamas’ brutal assault against Israel came on Vladimir Putin’s birthday.
Such a catastrophic security shock in the Middle East was probably a welcome surprise for a Russian president whose strategic priority is to divert Western support and attention away from Ukraine. A massive conflagration in Israel risks doing exactly that.
The big question is how much credit to give the Kremlin for the perfect storm of mounting crises — in Israel, Kosovo, the Caucasus and Africa — that are rearing up on America and Europe. For many, it’s tempting to see Putin as a mastermind or puppetmaster, stirring up more conflicts than the West can cope with.
In truth, Putin didn’t ignite all these crises, but he’s now happy to slosh fuel on the fire, and play them to his advantage. He’s relishing the chaos. The Kremlin’s crowing propagandists are already spreading a narrative that a Middle East war is a win for Russia and the money for Ukraine will dry up.
“This was probably the best birthday gift for Putin. The attack against Israel will divide attention, given the natural U.S. focus on Israel,” an EU diplomat said.
“We hope that this will not have a dramatic effect on the support for Ukraine, but of course, a lot will also depend on the length of the conflict in the Middle East. If we truly want to be a geopolitical European Union, we have to be able to deal with multiple crises at the same time.”
In Washington, it’s a foregone conclusion the Hamas attacks on Israel will reduce the U.S focus on Ukraine, absorbed as it has been on the consequences of last week’s ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy by a group of Republican hard-liners — part of the same group of conservatives that has been looking to cut aid to Ukraine. The race to succeed McCarthy is unfolding now, making it more difficult for the Biden administration to gain congressional approval for any additional aid it may want to give Israel.
Sensing the threat that the West could be about to lose focus on Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been playing up that Hamas’ backer Iran and Russia are close allies, and is casting the fight against Russia and the struggle against Islamist militants as one and the same. “Israeli journalists who have been here in Ukraine, in Bucha, are now saying that they saw the same evil where Russia came. The same evil. And the only difference is that there is a terrorist organization that attacked Israel, and here is a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine.”
So how involved are the Russians? [Continue reading…]
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has long portrayed himself as a friend of Vladimir Putin. In a memoir published during Russia’s war on Ukraine, Netanyahu repeatedly lauded the Russian leader for his intellect and his “particularly friendly attitude” toward the Jewish people.
Putin, too, has over the years cast himself as a loyal ally of the Israeli state, promoting cultural ties and visa-free travel between the two countries.
But after the worst attack on Israel in decades, the much-touted friendship appears to have vanished.
Four days after the start of Hamas’s surprise attack, Putin is yet to call Netanyahu, while the Kremlin has not published a message of condolence to the country, a diplomatic gesture of goodwill that Russia routinely sends out to global leaders following deadly incidents on their soil.
On Tuesday, in his first comments about the Hamas incursion, Putin said the explosion of violence between Israel and the Palestinians showed that US policy had failed in the Middle East and had taken no account of the needs of the Palestinians.
“I think that many people will agree with me that this is a vivid example of the failure of United States policy in the Middle East,” Putin said, without acknowledging the gruesome deaths in Israel.
The shift in tone appears to point to a larger rift between the two countries that has taken place since the start of the war in Ukraine.
For years, Putin has sought to cultivate strong ties with Israel while also backing the Palestinian cause, an alliance which stems from the Soviet area. [Continue reading…]