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Putin faces ‘tough choice’ between Iran and Israel if he is to preserve his regime, expert says

‘I think Israelis are going to find that Putin is not a helpful or a friendly actor’

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 07 November 2023 07:35 GMT
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Putin will choose Iran over Israel in tough choice for protecting his regime, says expert

Vladimir Putin will soon have to make the “tough choice” of siding with either Iran or Israel as he faces the twin challenge of protecting his regime and continuing with his invasion of Ukraine, an expert said.

Moscow’s continuing war in Ukraine will test its relationship with both Iran and Israel, according to Kimberly Kagan, the president for the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think-tank.

The countries don’t share diplomatic relations and have been described as each other’s arch nemeses even though Russia shares ties with both.

A large number of Russian citizens live in Israel, and Moscow and Tel Aviv have both shared strong ties ever since a civil war erupted in Syria in 2011. Iran, on the other hand, has continued to militarily bolster Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that has entered its second winter.

Ms Kagan believes Mr Putin will no longer be able to put off the inevitable decision that will have him side with one country and test Moscow’s ties with both.

“Putin does not want to choose between Iran and Israel, but right now because of the war in Ukraine, Iran is more important to Putin, and Putin will end up choosing Iran because he needs the Iranian weapons in order to be able to continue his war in Ukraine,” she told PBS.

She also said Israel may not find Mr Putin helpful, further making the Russian president’s choice between the two slightly less difficult.

“I think the Israeli government has always hoped that Russia would provide some check on Iranian behaviour in Syria. We at ISW have assessed that that check has not been effective,” Ms Kagan said.

“But be that as it may, it has been Israeli policy to tolerate Russia’s presence inside of Syria.

“I don’t think that this myth is going to last very long. I think Putin is going to have to make a choice soon between whether he will maintain his relationship with Iran or whether he will maintain his relationship with Israel.

“And Putin needs Iran in order to sustain his war in Ukraine. And so Putin is going to end up facing a tough choice.

“But since his war in Ukraine is so important to him and the survival of his regime, I think the Israelis are going to find that Putin is not a helpful or a friendly actor,” she said.

Ms Kagan said because the Ukraine invasion is important for the Russian president and the survival of his regime, he will “have to optimise his alliance relationship to be able to continue to sustain that war”.

Moscow’s need of more munitions from Iran for the Ukraine war was underscored by the US.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby had said that Iran has been Russia’s “top military backer” since the start of the Ukrainian invasion.

Moscow had looked to buy more advanced attack drones from Tehran after using up most of the 400 drones it had previously bought from it, the White House had said in May.

Officials also said the US believed Iran was considering selling hundreds of ballistic missiles to Russia, but Washington did not have evidence a deal was consummated.

Iran has also provided Russia with artillery and tank rounds for its invasion of Ukraine, according to Washington. “This is a full scale defence partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to the region in the Middle East and to the international community,” Mr Kirby had said.

Iranian Shahed drones have been a frequent assault weapon used by Russia against Ukraine.

Last month, days after the conflict in Gaza began, Russia had claimed it could play a role in resolving the conflict as Mr Putin blamed US foreign policy for tensions in the region.

The comments from Moscow came despite Russia currently being the primary aggressor in the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. They also made no mention of Russia’s own role in the Middle East peace process since 2002 as part of the “Quartet” of powers with the UN, US and EU.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had said Russia was speaking to both sides in the conflict and that it would seek to be involved in its settlement. He told a briefing that Moscow’s top priority was the safety of its own citizens in the region.

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