Life is complex. International relationships are complex Often, they are contradictory. Germany needs Russian oil and gas, so Germany will do nothing against Russia regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The oil pipeline between Germany and Russia will get finessed and accomplished. Israel now finds itself in a more perplexing predicament than a month ago. Ever since Obama turned Syria over to the Russians, Israel has had to seek Putin’s approval for airstrikes in Syria. Israel also had to thread the needle, as it were, to avoid, as much as is reasonably or unreasonably possible, injuring or killing Russian personnel in Syria.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine raises complex, contradictory, and conflicting interests regarding Israel, Russia, and Iran. According to a posting in today’s Jerusalem Post (JP), “There is a chance that the war in and US focus on Ukraine could lead Iran to believe it can exploit this chaotic time to encourage its proxies to attack Israel.” Read the full article. Of course, to opine “there is a chance” is not saying much. There is always a chance. Reports on Thursday morning showed Russian attacks across Ukraine, including against key airports and military sites. Air raid sirens were heard in western Ukraine and in Lviv where some countries – including Israel – have relocated their embassies. The message that Russia’s unprovoked attack has for the world is clear: Other countries can do the same.
As asserted in the Jerusalem Post article, “In the Middle East, Iran understands that the Russian operation gives it a blank check to continue attacking countries throughout the region. This has repercussions potentially for Israel. Jerusalem has always behaved as if it will have to face Iran alone, but the conflict in Ukraine is yet another message for the Middle East.” The concern, based on logic and recent past events, Iran believing it can exploit this chaotic time to encourage its proxies to attack Israel. Hezbollah has been threatening Israel and increasingly stockpiling missiles and drones. Tehran could benefit from the Ukraine crisis by either getting a reduction in nuclear sanctions or empowering its proxies.
Iran has encouraged its proxies and allies in the region to attack countries such as the United Arab Emirates, as well as US forces in Iraq and Israel. In Syria, Iran backs the Assad regime. It has moved proxies and terror groups into areas near the Golan. It has also moved drone threats to Syria to strike at Israel. This resulted in attacks against Israel in February 2018 and May 2021 when drones entered Israeli airspace, as well as an incident in August 2019 when Israel struck a Hezbollah drone team on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Iran has constructed a base in Syria to facilitate the movement of weapons to the country and Lebanon.
Iran mined six ships in May and June 2019 and there was no response. An Iranian drone attacked a ship in July 2021, killing two crew members in the Gulf of Oman. There was no response. Iran has attacked the US garrison at Tanf in Syria; it has carried out drone attacks on US forces in Erbil in northern Iraq. The list goes on. Iran will be watching the war that Russia is waging carefully to see how the world reacts. It knows that it has enjoyed impunity for strikes across the region – but it wants to know if it can carry out larger attacks. As the Russian war in Ukraine unfolds, there are also ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. Iran’s ability to carry out attacks without consequences across an arc of 3,000 kilometers from Lebanon to the Gulf of Oman shows how the impunity of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are part of a larger trend.