The Iran-Russia-Israel love triangle trembles amid tensions in Ukraine


The Iran-Russia-Israel love triangle trembles amid tensions in Ukraine

This aerial photo taken on April 24, 2022 shows a destroyed residential area in Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Genya Savilov / AFP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s relationship with his closest superpower ally Vladimir Putin has passed through a complicated patch. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also made efforts to retain Russian affection without cutting ties with NATO countries.

It was recently reported that Tehran’s paramilitary allies in Iraq are sending large amounts of weapons to help Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. A Hashd Al-Shaabi commander said RPGs, anti-tank missiles and rocket launcher systems en route to Russia crossed the border point he controlled. “Whatever is against the US makes us happy,” he said.

This prompted a predictably lively reaction from Ukraine, forcing Tehran to deny the story. Still, the Iranian puppet in Damascus is promoting the use of thousands of Syrian mercenaries in the Ukraine conflict, including some from the regime’s elite divisions. Meanwhile, Iran recently arrested an Afghan politician and accused him of exploiting Iranian territory to recruit fighters for Ukraine.

A major reason for Tehran’s uneasiness is the sympathy for Ukraine among ordinary Iranians. Decades of empty rhetoric about standing up for oppressed and occupied peoples returns to haunt the ayatollahs. As one mother from Tehran’s working-class heartland of the regime put it, “A bullying force is killing children and women in Ukraine.”

The Ambassador of Ukraine in Tehran welcomed this solidarity. “When I drive the car with the flag of Ukraine and we stop on the road, the public sometimes shouts and gestures their support for Ukraine’s eventual victory,” he said. However, he ruefully added: “I have never seen support from the Islamic Republic itself.”

A jealous Khamenei has to live with the fact that Iran is invariably second to Israel in Moscow’s affections. It angers the ayatollahs that Putin is allowing Israel to bomb Iranian positions in Syria while Bennett and his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu are being hailed in Moscow. Israel is home to the world’s largest number of Russian Jews, who make up 15 percent of Israel’s population, and the two countries commonly refer to each other as “fraternal” states — even “neighbors,” given Russia’s presence in Syria. Should a major conflagration ever break out between Israel and Iran, it is clear which side Putin would side with.

However, the Ukraine conflict, like Iran, has massively complicated Israel’s relationship with Russia. Obviously, occupying and oppressing a sovereign people and appropriating their land is normal for Israel, but they still came under massive Western pressure to join NATO. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi made parliaments weep elsewhere, but after addressing the Knesset he was told tersely: “How dare you compare your suffering to what we have endured!” While the US Moscow charges of genocide and war crimes, Israel is reluctant to insult Russia.

Israel has tried to remain in the Kremlin’s good graces by not sending arms to Ukraine or engaging in sanctions, but it still receives scathing diplomatic letters from Moscow that it is not showing Mother Russia enough love. When Israel hinted it could send helmets to Kyiv, Russia’s ambassador in Tel Aviv warned Moscow would respond “appropriately” and accused Israel of diverting attention from its actions in Jerusalem.

Capitalizing on these tensions, an Iranian trade delegation visited Moscow last week and signed a pledge to increase annual trade to $10 billion, along with the prospect of Russia selling increasingly advanced weapons to Tehran.

Iran, Israel and Russia benefit from each other’s destabilizing actions, with the Ukraine conflict doing little to prevent Tel Aviv and Tehran from vying for Putin’s affections.

Baria Alamuddin

With Russia weakened, the ayatollahs fear losing their top cheerleader on the UN Security Council. As Carnegie Middle East Center analyst Mohanad Hage Ali noted, “If the Putin regime is destabilized, it will have a tremendous impact on Iran, particularly Syria.”

But the status of Iran and Russia as like-minded pariah states trying to evade global sanctions makes a flimsy starting point for a beautiful relationship. Moscow and Beijing fear the spread of Islamist militancy across Central Asia and have the most to lose if Iran becomes a bellicose, nuclear-armed, North Korean-style theocracy on their doorstep.

Likewise, Turkey’s complex relationship with Russia has become even more tangled given its NATO membership and close ties with Ukraine, a maritime neighbor. Turkey has obstructed Russian Black Sea shipping and closed its airspace to Russian planes flying from Syria to curb the influx of mercenaries. It remains to be seen how Moscow will react to this latest recipient of Russian weapons systems.

While Iran sees Syria as a beachhead for its deranged wars against the civilized world, Russia wants Syria stabilized so it can repay its massive investments. Iran’s regional destabilization limits Russia’s aspirations to become a regional power while damaging relations with the Gulf states.

In sabotaging recent advances in the nuclear deal to discredit the West, Putin gave scant consideration to Iran’s strategic interests – prompting a bout of Russia-bashing from reformist segments of the Iranian media.

The US seems oddly unaware of the fortuitous implications of Russian isolation weakening Iran. American signals that it might support the delisting of Revolutionary Guard terrorists have emboldened Iran to push for the lifting of other counterterrorism sanctions. Russia’s exodus from Syria skewers Assad and Khamenei’s ambitions to bloodily retake Idlib and eastern Syria, banishing Tehran’s hopes of consolidating these areas in its corridor of control to the Mediterranean.

If the West achieves its goal that “Putin cannot win in Ukraine,” it will send a message to predatory occupying states elsewhere that disregard for international law must not persist.

In Mariupol, brave Ukrainians fight to the last man – and woman – to defend every inch of territory. Their struggle is the same as that of the Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians and Syrians in resisting tyranny, occupation and foreign rule.

In their bizarre tripartite marriage of convenience, the planet’s three main occupying powers – Iran, Israel and Russia – benefit from each other’s destabilizing actions, with the Ukraine conflict doing little to deter Tel Aviv and Tehran from courting Putin’s affections. The world’s increasing willingness to act on the side of justice, liberty and national sovereignty could have the paradoxical effect of binding these belligerent pariah states even closer together.

Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster based in the Middle East and the UK. She is an editor for the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News


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