Moscow and Tel Aviv have long enjoyed fairly good ties despite the turmoil in the Middle East but these relations are at risk as Russia blames Israel for the downing of its warplane off the Syrian coast and the death of its crew.
Although the plane was technically shot down by a Syrian missile, Russia made it clear who it blames for the tragedy, saying that Israeli pilots used the Russian Il-20 as cover.
The Middle East is historically a place of bitter rivalries. Tensions soared after the Arab Spring brought more havoc to an already-complex region, riddled with competing interests and the clashing ambitions of various actors, large and small. Nevertheless, Russia and Israel had always managed to maintain good relations.
This year alone President Vladimir Putin met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three times, and on each occasion the media got few details from closed-door discussions. Through delicate, behind-the-scenes diplomacy Moscow maintained close, working relations with Israel. The fact that Israel is one of the closest allies of the US was never an issue for Moscow. Russia itself kept developing ties with Turkey and Iran, Israel’s arch-nemesis, while managing to address Israel’s concerns.
For Russia, Israel is not only an important, geopolitical partner with presumed nuclear capabilities, situated in the heart of the world’s most turbulent region, it’s also home to about 1.3 million people born in post-Soviet countries. This large diaspora plays a significant role for Russia when it tailors its approach to Tel Aviv.
Even the war in Syria, where Israel – in the hope of curbing Iranian influence – supported and armed controversial anti-government militants, didn’t result in a serious crisis in relations with Russia.
Over the course of the conflict, the IDF had conducted numerous airstrikes against targets in Syria and even launchedmissiles at Syrian jets. Each attack was strongly condemned by both Syria and Russia who had been pointing out that any military incursion into the country without government and UN approval is illegal. Moscow’s lack of a more robust reaction was part of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Israel, said Gevorg Mirzayan, an expert with the think-tank ‘Russian council for international affairs.’