The true meaning of Israeli mediation

(To Andrea Forte)
09/03/22

Continuing to monitor whether and which satellites of the great powers mobilize to mediate in the conflict in Ukraine remains an effective way of measuring the situation. In this sense, Israel's attempt at mediation with its premier Naftali Bennet is significant. The first factor of interest is that the field of minor mediators is expanding to an extra-European level. It means that the number of geopolitical quadrants that must be considered in the resolution of the current game is also expanding. The tour to go through to understand the "Israel factor" in this crisis is one of the most tortuous, but also interesting.

What does the presence of Israel entail? What levers does it have? It is history, even before the powers involved, that summons Jerusalem. That darkness of persecutions culminating in the Holocaust. Both Russian and Ukrainian Jews were exterminated at the time, both Russian and Ukrainian Jews live today in the struggling countries (Jewish is the same Ukrainian President Zelensky), both Russian-speaking Jews (one million) and Ukrainian-speaking Jews (250) live in Israel, all reasons for which Israel maintains a strategic equidistance. However, history is not just numbers, it is above all depth, in this case painful. The Jews did not emigrate, it is more correct to say that they fled. It is the story of the Aliyah (pilgrimage or ascent), or rather the flight to the Holy Land starting from the massacres of 1882. These persecuted are called in Israel olim hadashim (new arrivals).

Days ago in Kiev the bombings hit the Babij Yar memorial, which commemorates the 34.000 Jewish victims who were killed by Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators between 29 and 30 September 1941 (so-called Bullet Holocaust). Equally a few days ago Ukrainian President Zelensky appealed to Jews from all over the world, not to remain silent in the face of the invasion. Even if only for this, Israel could not fail to show up, to tell its citizens and the Jewish minorities of the two countries at war that this time the story is different, because in history there is a state of the Jews that will protect them.

Let's move on to the strategic aspect of Israel's interest in the game. Its main ally is the United States, its main enemy in the region is Iran, with its (unrealistic) threat of nuclear extinction of Israel. Now, both the United States and Iran are preparing to sign a nuclear deal in Vienna, which will essentially suspend the supply of the Iranian atomic bomb in exchange for the suspension of the anti-Iranian sanctions. So Israel's main friend and main enemy are about to agree, and the enemy is geographically closer than the friend. All the more so considering that the enemy is literally on the Israeli borders, having installed himself in Syria in support of the Bashar Assad regime (and through Hezbollah from Lebanon). Absolute enemy, absolute closeness, and associated bomb risk… to summarize. But let's broaden the look. In this game there is also Turkey, Iran's heavy strategic rival. A nuclear deal therefore, if it benefits Iran, it disadvantages Turkey, and if it disadvantages Turkey it benefits Russia, which is its real great opponent. Here appears one of the actors of the crisis indirectly. It disadvantages Turkey because the agreement would reintroduce Iran into world dynamics with new legitimacy and would strengthen its presence in Syria, where Syria must be translated with the south of Turkey. Not only that, Russia must also give the okay in the nuclear deal. Here, however, we must first highlight the fact that for Israel Russia is not just a distant, "indirect" country. Russia also borders with Israel, since it too is in Syria and it too holds the Assad regime together with Iran, it is therefore a direct presence, but it has always allowed Israel to attack Iran on the spot. Similar blessings in Syria are given to Turkey against its Kurdish opponents. So Russia's ability was to settle in the coveted (warm) Mediterranean Sea, in a key area for strategically disengaging from NATO containment at its European borders.

Translated, Syria, as southern Turkey, also means south of NATO. Moscow's greatest achievement on the spot is therefore the bypassing of Atlanticist containment in Eastern Europe… and Ukraine! Here we are also in Ukraine. Long round, you play with more balls and in more fields. Israel understood this. Now, Israel is aware of its limitations and no longer has the strength to prevent the closure of the nuclear deal, but that does not mean that it cannot bend it as much as possible in its favor. Since this agreement involves Russia in one way or another, if it wants to bring it closer, it must fit into its dynamics with Turkey and Iran.

First of all, Israel is a minor power, most of all, but not absolutely, autonomous. It means that Israel is never just Israel, Israel is also the United States, insofar as it is its eyes and perhaps its executor in the Middle East. If Israel managed to hurt Moscow, it would indirectly favor Washington. Russia knows this. The fact that Israel is also moving in the Russian Caucasus also testifies to the fact that it is American in scope. For example, she has been cooperating in defense (de facto anti-Russian) with Georgia since before the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. She does it for strategic reasons, not against Russia itself, she wants to press Iran from the north. To do this definitively, however, Tbilisi is not enough, because it does not border directly with Tehran. To hit Iran, it was the only one of the two Caucasian countries that really bordered us to the north and was also hostile to it (that is, pro-Turkish). So we needed Azerbaijan, certainly not Armenia, which suffered the first genocide of the twentieth century from Turkey. Israel therefore sent its drones and missiles to support Azerbaijan against Armenia in the war of October 2020. Azerbaijan is many things, Shiite like Iran (minimum value), ethnically Turkish (average value), foreign neighbor of the Russian Caucasus (maximum value). If Azerbaijan wins over Armenia, an ally of the Russians and anti-Turkish, then there is a risk that the aforementioned average (and Turkish) value will outclass the maximum value. For this the Russians finally intervened, but the Azerbaijani victory, therefore Turkish, therefore of the rival of the Russians, took place. Also thanks to an Israel ... And here we are in the Caucasus, that is south of Russia and east of Ukraine ...

Obviously, Russia does not like it, especially since it allows Jerusalem to bomb its enemy number one in Syria, but for Israel the opportunity to see the Caucasus not as a foreign neighbor Russian, but as a strategic opportunity to hurt the absolute enemy, as the roof of Iran, therefore useful to shift the pressure directly to its northern borders, as that does it with Israel from Syria. By doing so, Israel has contributed to bringing Azerbaijan even closer to Turkey, which would like to dispute regional hegemony with the Russians.

Let's recap Israel's success. It positions itself to the north of the Iranian enemy and strengthens its other opponent, Turkey, to the east. Minimum effort, great pincer. Why does this matter for the game we are interested in here, namely Russian-Ukrainian? Because, it was said, north of Iran is south of Russia, and Israel is never just Israel, it is the arm of the United States.

If Israel is becoming a problem, then why would Russia accept Israeli mediation? Let's think in terms of power and reverse the question. What can Israel bring to Russia in mediation?

Israel is one of the arms of the United States and it is therefore also in their name that it goes to talk to Moscow and eventually guarantees a way out of the blow that the United States itself is giving to the Russian economy. On the table there is no Israeli withdrawal from the Caucasus, too vital for Jerusalem, but there seems to be the possibility of not inserting Iran into the game of anti-Russian economic sanctions, leaving a hole of economic oxygen, which is also necessary for Iran. after years of embargo. It is something that the United States can guarantee, precisely because it has the possibility of putting it on the plate of the nuclear deal, which Iran absolutely needs to conclude. This strengthens Iran, but not enough to weaken Israel. For this Israel agrees to mediate. A double outlet to Russia and Iran also cripples the scale of Turkish victory in the Nagorno-Karabach war, reducing it to mere tactics. Russia could thus also reaffirm her dominance in the Caucasus, again demonstrating to everyone that the paraphrase of the saying is valid, not to wake the sleeping Russian Caucasus. Or rather, awaken, because Georgia had already tried to get up in 2008, but Russia had put her back to bed and we'll see if Ukraine wants to end up with her afterwards.

What has been said is confirmed by the fact that on the same day as the start of this attempt, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to the Polish-Ukrainian border to speak with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Having done this simultaneously with the Israeli move is saying a very important thing to the Ukrainians, which is that there is an American mandate to that mediation and that one can be Western and stay in the Western camp, even without belonging to the European Union or NATO. . Israel, which has maximum US support without being in NATO and the EU, proves it. Of course, you cannot let the US military alliance, expelled through the door, enter through the window, but partnerships, even indirect ones, can exist. As if to say, no at home, but in the garden yes.

Equally then all the distinctions of the case must be made. Israel does not border on a great empire that would like to incorporate it, but it does not suffer any less existential threats for this. Virtually every war it fought until a few decades ago was aimed at its extinction, it borders on movements that have the same objective by statute and must relate to a regional power, Iran, whose purpose, for charity rhetorical (rhetorical?) , is also to make it disappear from the map. Obviously, whatever the formula may be, this mediation does not help to find it. This mediation serves to create an atmosphere. Sweden and Finland cannot be substitutes for Israel, because in fact, even if not in law, they are in NATO. Therefore, Finlandization is not the type of concrete geopolitical proposal. On the other hand, it can be the juridical mask of an Israeliization, understood as Westernization, without official affiliations. In any case, various forms of Western-style neutrality will be examined, precisely the Finnish model, or the Austrian one ...

As proof of this US intention towards Ukraine, Blinken met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Latvia on 7 March. Meet in Latvia. The Baltic states are the extreme hawks of anti-Russian containment. That the principal of the mediation and the mediator meet in the hard court of NATO the day after Blinken's meeting with Kuleba, serves to tell Ukraine that maybe his country will not officially stay in Western homes, but that support, even if perhaps behind formulas of neutrality, it is confirmed. And reassure the Baltics themselves that containment continues. That this offer is on the plate is clarified by the Ukrainian government itself at the end of the day on the 6th… “Non-NATO formulas can be taken into consideration”. Is all this enough to be decisive? No, because the problem is not just the field, but the identity. Are we something? Do we have the right to exist? And to choose? These are the questions of Ukrainians, not to themselves, but to Westerners and Russians.

It can therefore be said that the Israeli attempt serves to broaden the considerations to other quadrants, because this game is so big that it will not be resolved in itself, but taking into account that many geopolitical situations are shaken and measures must be taken of this impact. Israel serves to set these tables around the Ukraine negotiation table.

The final mediation will therefore take place in a dining room with many tables, many invited actors, many waiters and above all many bills to pay. Israel is not used to decide, but to decipher to decide new balances. The variable is the Ukrainians. Enemies and friends alike try to figure out which part to play, whether invited or flat. They themselves know this, and they know that the only window that increases the chances is that if it must be flat, that Russia will throttle in a grueling guerrilla resistance.

Photo: Kremlin archive