Why Russia does not want a war between Iran and Israel

While some analysts argue that Russia is benefiting from the chaos in the Middle East, Michelle Gries, an analyst at the RAND Institute, explains to the American conservative magazine The National Interest why she disagrees with that claim.

Namely as the reputable magazine "Geopolitics" writes in the Israeli air attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria which happened recently when three senior generals and four other Iranian military officers were killed, the world still expects Iran to retaliate in the coming days or weeks.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei vowed that Israel "will be punished" and "regret this crime", while President Ebrahim Raisi said the attack "will not go unanswered".

In that context, the media reports that there are strong fears that this could escalate the war between Israel and Hamas into a wider regional conflict and potentially even a direct conflict between Iran and Israel. Although many analysts argue that Moscow is benefiting from the chaos in the Middle East – diverting the West's attention and resources from Ukraine – Russia actually has a lot to lose if the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates into a wider war, the magazine said.

How Russia intervened in the conflict in Syria and Libya

According to what the media writes analyzing Russia, it has spent the past decade consolidating its influence in the region, often taking advantage of local conflicts. This was most evident in Libya, where Russia used the country's civil war to establish a foothold, and in Syria, where Russian intervention saved the Assad regime from imminent collapse in 2015. Russia then expanded its influence in Syria, establishing a permanent military presence through bases in Tartus and Khmeimim.

On the other hand, after the US withdrawal from Syria in 2019, Russia stepped into the newly created vacuum, helping Syrian government forces regain control of the northeastern part of the country. In the same year, Russia held joint naval exercises with Egypt. This was followed by the construction of the Russian nuclear power plant in Egypt, where earlier this year the continued growth of ties between the two countries was demonstrated.

Meanwhile, what is interesting according to the media is that while Russia used the instability in Syria and Libya to establish itself as a guarantor of regional security, it is at the same time not in a position to have similar benefits if the war between Israel and Hamas escalates. In part this will be due to Russia's preoccupation with its invasion of Ukraine.

That this is the case also says the incident of last October, distracted by the war, Russia failed to intervene on behalf of Armenia, because the Azerbaijani military forces occupied the ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. This suggests that Russia currently does not have the capacity to act as a stabilizing force in the post-Soviet sphere of interest, let alone in the Middle East, the media analyzes.

Cooperation between Iran and Russia at a high level, but until when?

Other signs suggesting that Russian influence in the Middle East may be waning are Russian-Iranian relations which, should a military conflict between Israel and Iran occur, could contribute to reducing Russia's future status in the region. Why would that happen for simple reasons, Geopolitika magazine states.

Since the start of its invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Russia has deepened its partnership with Iran, seeking greater defense and economic cooperation, according to the think tank. Russia has for the entire period found an important military supplier in Iran, which supplies Moscow with drones, ballistic missiles and parts for fighter jets. Closer relations with Iran have also improved Russia's ability to withstand international sanctions.

Moscow's growing friendship with Tehran may signal that Russian influence in the Middle East remains strong after all. But such relations at the same time can signal the opposite. Russia may realize that its future role in the region will depend on the favor of an increasingly capable Iran. It is clear that for Moscow to achieve its long-term strategic goals in the Middle East, it must cultivate a close cooperative relationship with Tehran.

Yet a broader regional conflict, especially if it involves a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran, will limit Iran's ability to continue to serve as a military supplier to Russia. For Tehran, on the other hand, it may happen to ask for more support from Russia, at a time when Russia has limited capacity to provide it, and all of this indicates that it is not in Moscow's interest to open a new war in the Middle East, where it would be indirectly involved even if it was through a call for help from Tehran.

Additionally, what is also of concern to Russia is the fact that the wider conflict in the Middle East could provide an opportunity for China to serve as a mediator in the region, as it did in the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March 2023. The war in Ukraine has already contributed to Russia's greater dependence on China. Russia would be particularly sensitive to Chinese attempts to encroach on its influence in the Middle East. For now, Russia appears to be following the expected plan: condemning Israel for violating Syria's sovereignty and deploying more forces to the Syrian-controlled area of ​​the Golan Heights. Whether we will see a significant escalation in the coming days and whether Russia will be able to handle the associated risks remains to be seen.

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