July 17, 2018
- Why Russia Needs Israel – Prof. Hillel Frisch
Why has Russia under Putin acknowledged Israeli red lines aimed at preventing the buildup of an Iranian military presence in Syria? To fully understand Putin’s acceptance of Israeli involvement in Syria, one must consider the balance of power that existed between Czarist Russia and its southern neighbors, Ottoman Turkey and imperial Iran, at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, Russia’s population was 100 million compared to 24 million for the Ottoman Empire and half that number in impoverished and divided Persia.
One hundred years later, a massive change in the balance of power has occurred. Today the combined populations of Persia and the Ottoman Empire (165 million) exceed the number of Russian citizens (142 million). Within Russia, the birthrates of Russian Slavs, Putin’s core group, are declining much more quickly than those of its sizeable Muslim Turkic populations. Moreover, the huge economic advantage Russia once enjoyed over the Ottoman Empire and imperial Persia has almost entirely disappeared, with the combined GDP of Iran and Turkey equaling Russia’s.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with an increasing non-Muslim population and increasing power. Moreover, Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a shared culture exemplified by Russian-born and native Russian-speaking politicians in positions of power. Thus, an understanding with Israel is important to Putin and the Russian leadership. The writer is a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at its BESA Center. (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)