Reconstructing Geopolitics Narratives: Russia’s Balancing Act in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

China’s role in the region has also been increasing although primarily on the diplomatic front. Earlier this year, China managed to successfully broker a deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-standing enemies-of-sorts in the Middle East

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on June 26, 2023. (Kremlin press release)

by Jude Amory

In the heart of the ever-shifting geopolitical terrain of the Middle East, the Israel-Hamas conflict has emerged as a crucible of power dynamics, revealing the intricate interplay of global forces and strategic maneuvering. As casualties mount and the region grapples with escalating violence, the involvement of major global players such as the United States and Russia has underscored the complex geopolitical web woven around the conflict. Amidst this landscape, Russia’s recent proposal of a UN Security Council resolution and its multifaceted diplomatic overtures could allow Russia to regain lost diplomatic influence and secure a foothold in the Middle East.

The recent security development in the Levant has shifted the regional security landscape drastically. The possibility of brutal conflict involving multiple nation states and in extension the possibility of major international actors joining the war looms large and creates a deteriorating situation in the Middle East since the fall of the Islamic State. The stark human toll of the conflict has been pronounced, with the death toll in Palestine surging to an alarming 2,300, while Israel has grappled with 1,300 reported casualties. Israel’s unrelenting airstrikes have left a trail of devastation across the Gaza Strip, reducing numerous structures to rubble and exacerbating the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire.

Amidst these developments, the United States has visibly demonstrated its unwavering support for Israel by approving billions of dollars in aid, sending military equipment and dispatching the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group to the region. This robust show of military force serves not only as a reinforcement of Israel’s defense capabilities but also as a clear warning to Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and other potential regional actors seeking to exploit the escalating conflict.

In a carefully calculated move, Russia too has assumed a pivotal role, presenting a UN Security Council resolution advocating for a humanitarian ceasefire and unequivocally denouncing violence against civilians and terrorism. This diplomatic initiative stands as a testament to Moscow’s proactive engagement in the pursuit of a sustainable peace agreement, underlining its commitment to alleviating the profound suffering in the region. Of course one can rightfully point out the clear Russian double standard of assuming the role of the Middle Eastern peacemaker whilst continuing to wage war in its own neighborhood – yet that analysis is reserved for a later day.

President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks have shed light on the underlying factors fueling the conflict, attributing the crisis to the failure to establish a sovereign Palestinian state. He further underscored the detrimental impact of Israel’s settlement policies, exacerbating an already volatile situation. Putin’s call for restraint from both the Israeli government and Hamas signals Russia’s commitment to averting further escalation and associated risks, emphasising the urgency for a swift resolution. This is very much in contrast to the US outlook of the situation, especially with the recent leaks from the US State Department urging American diplomats not to call for a ceasefire or de-escalation to the Palestinian issue.

The multifaceted nature of Russia’s diplomatic approach is further evident in its careful navigation of relationships with both Israel and the Palestinians. Reflecting on its historical involvement in the region, notably its steadfast support for the Palestinians during the Cold War era, Moscow continues to calibrate its foreign policy stance, aiming to reinvigorate and reshape its alliances within the complex geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Furthermore, Russia’s carefully calibrated diplomatic engagements, illustrated by its upcoming dialogues with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, serve as a testament to its resolute commitment to establishing a foothold in the intricate Middle East peace process. This commitment is mirrored in Russia’s burgeoning trade relations with Israel, which continue to strengthen over time, fostering a deeper and more multifaceted bond between the two nations. This diplomatic balancing act is a clear illustration of Moscow’s strategic efforts to maintain amicable relations with both parties, as emphasised by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who stressed the necessity of a balanced approach to facilitate a viable resolution.

Russia’s draft Security Council resolution stresses the imperative need for a humanitarian ceasefire and vehemently denounces violence targeting innocent civilians, as well as all forms of terrorism. The resolution also emphasises the urgency of releasing hostages, ensuring unimpeded access to humanitarian aid, and the safe evacuation of vulnerable civilians.

However, Russia’s strategic calculations extend beyond immediate conflict resolution, seemingly intertwining with broader geopolitical implications. Amid its active role in resolving the Israel-Hamas crisis, Moscow appears intent on shifting global attention away from its military intervention in Ukraine, strategically aiming to erode Western support for Kyiv through the distraction of ongoing conflicts in other regions. This is further reinforced by the fact that Russia launched a major offensive in Avdiivka in Eastern Ukraine with a successful encirclement of multiple Ukrainian garrisons amidst the war in Israel.

It is essential to note that a UN Security Council resolution requires at least nine affirmative votes, without facing vetoes from any of the permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, China, or Russia. Historically, the United States has shielded its ally Israel from any potential Security Council interventions, adding a layer of complexity to the path of the resolution.

Whilst the Security Council resolution holds significant promise for a potential ceasefire and a diplomatic way forward, the possibility of the United States vetoing the resolution looms large – a move that could amplify the geopolitical repercussions of the conflict. Yet, if the resolution is confirmed and the US proceeds to veto it, Russia stands to achieve a substantial strategic foreign policy win, significantly reshaping its relations with countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

This comes at a time where Washington’s geopolitical influence in the region appears to be waning in recent years. This shift has been predominantly influenced by critical changes in the power dynamics of the region, leading to the emergence of newer players that tend to fill gaps in the vacuum left by the United States. Noteworthy among these developments is the active military involvement of Turkey in northern Syria with the Kurdish issue, the increasing sphere of influence of Iran across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the steadfast Russian influence and support to the Assad regime and the rise of paramilitary and proxy groups including the Yemeni Houthis, Lebanese Hezbollah, Syrian Kurds and Palestinian Hamas.

China’s role in the region has also been increasing although primarily on the diplomatic front. Earlier this year, China managed to successfully broker a deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-standing enemies-of-sorts in the Middle East. Bringing together the Ayatollahs of Iran and the Royals of Saudi had been a great challenge to multiple actors in the region over the years. Yet China’s role in brokering the deal, amongst other diplomatic interventions, cements the notion that the great game of international geopolitics has shifted from one of unipolarity to that of multipolarity.

Moreover, Russia’s historical context in the region, notably its Cold War support for the Palestinians and other Arab allies against Israel, has shaped its evolving diplomatic stance. Despite a shift in policies following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Putin has actively sought to revive ties with Middle Eastern nations, including Israel, while extending cooperation to Syria, particularly in bolstering President Bashar al-Assad’s regime during the civil war.

Notably, the burgeoning trade relations and the influx of over a million immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet states to Israel since the end of the Cold War have fostered a deeper bond between the two countries. While maintaining cooperation with Israel during its operations in Syria, Russia faced occasional challenges, exemplified by the 2018 downing of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft by Syrian forces in response to an Israeli airstrike, temporarily straining relations.

Russia-Israeli relations were further strained by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite voicing support for Ukraine, Israeli authorities have refrained from providing military assistance, navigating a delicate balance. Amid the conflict, Putin’s disparaging remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his claim of Zelenskyy’s alleged neo-Nazi affiliation have sparked resentment among many Israelis.

While Russia’s pivotal role in the Israel-Hamas conflict remains a focal point, its broader geopolitical strategies extend beyond the Levant, encompassing strategic alliances and diplomatic maneuvers that shape the global political landscape.

One such noteworthy alliance materialized with Iran, a significant player in the region. Despite historical tensions, the post-Soviet era saw Russia and Iran gradually solidify their ties, marked by Moscow’s construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant and deepened collaborations amid escalating tensions with the West. The alignment between the two nations further intensified during the Syrian conflict, as they lent support to the Assad regime, solidifying their partnership in the war-torn nation.

Amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the Russia-Iran nexus has expanded, with Iran reportedly providing Moscow with Shahed drones utilised in targeted strikes against Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure and other vital installations. Notably, technological exchanges have occurred, with Russia establishing facilities for the production of such drones. In reciprocation, Russia is anticipated to offer Iran advanced fighter jets and other modern weaponry, consolidating their strategic collaboration.

Beyond its engagement with Iran, Russia has actively pursued alliances with key regional players, including Saudi Arabia, showcasing its efforts to broaden its global influence. Despite backing differing factions in the Syrian conflict, Moscow and Riyadh have managed to bridge their differences on various fronts, facilitating a remarkable expansion of cooperation. Notably, the personal rapport between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has paved the way for strategic partnerships, particularly in the realm of energy diplomacy.

The culmination of their efforts was the spearheading of an OPEC+ deal to curtail oil output, bolstering global oil prices and offering respite to oil-producing nations. This collaborative effort stands as a testament to the multifaceted nature of Russia’s diplomatic endeavors, strategically fostering alliances that transcend regional complexities and exert a palpable influence on global affairs.

Through the sponsor of the UN Security Council Resolution, Russia also seeks a strategic opening to reclaim its position as a prominent global player, especially following the heavy sanctions imposed by the West in response to its intervention in Ukraine. By presenting itself as a proactive advocate for peace and a critical player in resolving the crisis, Moscow aims to not only navigate the intricacies of the conflict but also to showcase its diplomatic finesse and resilience amid the challenging geopolitical climate.

In the volatile landscape of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia’s strategic maneuvers and diplomatic engagements have underscored the complex interplay of global power dynamics. As it navigates the delicate balance between advocating for a ceasefire and concurrently pursuing alliances with regional players like Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia’s multifaceted approach reveals the intricacies of contemporary geopolitics. The convergence of historical legacies, shifting alliances, and calculated maneuvers not only shapes the trajectory of the conflict but also signifies a broader transformation in the global order, marked by the rise of multipolarity and the reconfiguration of traditional power structures. As the conflict continues to unfold, the critical interplay between major global players and their strategic calculations remains pivotal in shaping the future of the Middle East and the greater trajectory of global diplomacy.

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