What Trump bringing in Russia to join G-7 means for Israel
04.06.2020, Israel and the World
US President Donald Trump publicly announcing his intent to invite Russia to join the next G-7 meeting is nothing short of a geopolitical, security and intelligence earthquake.
How will this earthquake impact Israel?
The G-7 is made up of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and England. It is often an opportunity to have close-knit discussions between democratic allies about framing the world order on diplomacy and security issues.
There is also often sensitive intelligence sharing at these meetings.These decisions and the intelligence sharing obviously impact the Middle East and often Israel.
What would throwing Russia into this mix mean?
Moscow challenges US policy in seeking to undermine American democracy and elections, as well as on Iran, on Syria and in other areas (putting aside disputes over Russia’s partial annexation of Ukraine.)
Israel has tried to keep good relations with Russia, is not competing with it like the US is, and has cooperated or sought to “deconflict” with Moscow where the countries' policies contradict each other.
But Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman has warned that Russia at least sought to tamper with aspects of Israel’s elections – and when it comes to Iran and Syria, Russia’s policies are far more problematic for Israel than the US.
For America, the main threat posed by Russia is the cyber threat.
In contrast, for Israel, the main threat is Russia’s ability to help Iran form a new front against the Jewish state in Syria and to support Tehran in the nuclear standoff.
If not for Russia’s presence in Syria and its sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft system to the Assad regime, Israel would have freer rein to eliminate Iran’s presence there (though some say Israel has overcome the S-300 defenses.)
Currently, Israel appears to be pushing back Iranian forces in Syria, but there have been periods where Russia’s presence significantly reduced Jerusalem's ability to act.
Russia has also given the S-300 antiaircraft system to Iran. It has even discussed potentially providing it with the S-400 system. Both moves complicate any Israeli ability to strike Iranian nuclear facilities as a deterrent to the Islamic Republic breaking out to a nuclear weapon.
Moreover, Iran’s regime appears to be surviving US “maximum pressure” without having to backtrack on its nuclear program, mostly due to economic support from Russia and China.
Yes, there is a strong and open dialogue between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It has included some symbolic victories, such as the return of the body of Zechariah Baumel and the release of Naama Issachar.
There are also various economic and social areas where Israel and Russia cooperate and try to assist each other.
But Russia’s alliance with Iran and Syria is far more important to it than its interests with Israel –and Jerusalem’s closeness with the West is always a fault line between the parties.
WHAT IS Trump thinking by wanting to bring Russia to the G-7?
There are at least two possibilities.
One is that Russia is too powerful to ignore. There could be a hope that bringing it deeper into the conversation with the West and giving it more respect may lead it to take more responsible and cooperative policies globally.
A more hard-nosed version of that same strategy is simply to avoid misunderstandings and have clear communication about where the lines of conflict are and are not between Russia and the West.
But there is a more disturbing second alternative. It leans on some hard-to-explain Trump behavior with regard to Putin, like believing him over the CIA that Russia did not interfere with the 2016 US election.
This alternative posits that, for whatever the reason, Trump has a blind spot for Putin and Russia.
This is potentially dangerous for Israel, because it could lead to Russia and its allies Iran and Syria getting new opportunities for leverage against Israel.
It could also lead to the leaking of sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russia, which Trump already did once in 2017.
Israelis might also be frustrated that Trump is trying to cozy up to Moscow at the same time that he is pressing Israel to disengage from China.
Maybe this is part of a broader Trump strategy to peel Russia away from China and further isolate Beijing, but it could also strike Israelis as hypocrisy.
Trump can get closer and rub elbows with Russia as it helps Iran and Syria threaten Israeli security in serious ways. But Jerusalem cannot make economic deals with China because of US global competition with the Chinese that does not impact Israeli security that much.
That is not to say that China’s actions during the coronavirus crisis have not given pause to its previous Israeli supporters – they absolutely have given even strong supporters second thoughts.
But unless Trump conditions Putin’s joining the elite Western club on Moscow shifting its attitude to Iran and in Syria, the only way to view this new initiative is from the perspective of damage control.
By YONAH JEREMY BOB