Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2009

The keys to understanding the Israel–Russia

Pierre Razoux

November 2008

NATO Defense College


The world financial crisis, the Iranian crisis and the Georgian crisis illuminate through different prisms the complex relations between Israel and Russia.The seeming contradictions of this odd couple are a constant source of serious concern and perplexity to theWestern world, and to NATO in particular, all the more so since Russia sent its army into Georgia and is back on the world stage as an essential player.Why is it that only six weeks after the verbal clash over the Georgian crisis in August 2008 (when Russia accused Israel of having armed and trained the Georgian army), Russia and Israel abolished their visa regulations2, thus facilitating reciprocal trade? How do we explain the acceleration of capital flows between the two countries, at a time when world trade is clearly slowing down? And why is it that Moscow, after Washington, is still a destination of choice of Israeli prime ministers, while the Israeli authorities continue to insist that Israel has a special relationship with the United States? Are we to infer from this, then, that Israel and Russia are upgrading their strategic ties, as a popular Turkish magazine suggests 3? Lastly, why was Israel one of the very few states in the Middle East to maintain regular relations with Russia after the ColdWar, unlike the many Arab states who coldshouldered their former arms supplier just as it was preparing to deliver sophisticated missile systems to Syria and a nuclear power station to Iran? For many observers, trapped in Cold War thinking, it was impossible to imagine Israel and Russia, the USSR’s successor, as anything other than irreconcilable adversaries. This perception of Israel as the West’s champion against Sovietsupported Arab countries overlooked the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict arose from a regional conflict that went way beyond the confines of East-West confrontation. It also failed to take into account the deep and longstanding bonds between Israel and Russia, particularly in the area of immigration.