MK Avi Dichter (Likud), a former head of the Shin Bet security agency, said Tuesday that Russia’s interests in the Middle East by no means coincide with Israel’s and that the Jewish state must be vigilant concerning Russia’s growing influence in the region.
In an interview with Reuters, Dichter, who serves as chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that while Israel-Russia ties were good and that there was mutual respect between the two countries, “Russia thinks and acts as a superpower and as such it often ignores [the] Israeli interest when it doesn’t coincide with the Russian interest.”
Over the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice and has spoken with him on the phone six times, praising the developing relations between them and their convergence of opinion on a range of issues. Israel and Russia have been coordinating on a number of issues including a de-conflicting mechanism between their respective armies, set up to assure the Israel Defense Forces does not strike Russian jets operating in Syrian airspace.
Dichter, however, warned Tuesday that “the gap between us and them is large and disturbing” on a number of issues.
Whereas Israel considers Iran its greatest foe in the region and makes defending itself against Lebanese terror group Hezbollah a top priority, “Russia does not view Iran and its proxies according to the level of threat they pose or broadcast towards Israel,” Dichter said, adding that Russia “view[s] Hezbollah positively as the errand lackey of Iran in Syria and Lebanon, (and) they are backing the Shi’ite militia activity in Iraq and Syria.
On a number of other key issues, namely the Iranian nuclear deal, the Syrian civil war and Iran’s role in the region, Dichter noted, Russia and Israel hold diametrically opposing views.
Dichter emphasized that it is important to understand that Russia’s renewed interest in the region, amid a pull-back from the United States under President Barack Obama, is by no means temporary, as “it did not return to the Middle East with military capabilities in the air and at sea only to ‘show off’ and then leave.”
“The new neighbor did not come here only to rent an apartment, he came here to build a villa,” Dichter cautioned.
It is not yet clear what policy changes, if any, will come to pass under President-elect Donald Trump, but the brash billionaire has indicated that under his administration, US policy on Syria might align more with Russia’s.