While the US president talks with his Iranian counterpart, Israel should begin serious discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Because the future of the Middle East is far too important to be left to a unipolar decision, a Russian-Israeli dialog has become a necessity. But what would they talk about, and how could they ever coordinate policy objectives?
The essential nature of any successful paradigm change with President Putin would be an internationalization of the security architecture of the entire region. Naturally, Israel would view a UN role with a great deal of skepticism. The UN has not exactly been a bastion of support for the Jewish State. But a new friend on the five permanent-member Security Council would not be a bad thing. In fact, it wouldn’t be just the Russians interested in this paradigm shift; France and China would also be interested. In order to offset its UN General Assembly isolation, Israel would do really well to trump its main enemy (Iran) by doing an end-run to the Security Council.
For any dialog to be successful, however, Russia must agree to strictly adhere to the English language translation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. This is a must. Unlike the Soviet Union, Russian attention to Israeli security concerns (as inscribed in international law by 242) is vital. Only on the basis of 242 would Israel participate in a UN-sponsored regional security conference. The question of Palestine must remain within the 242 foundation. Oslo and its international parent, The Madrid Conference, were both structured on the basis of 242. Any new Security Council resolutions on the overall Middle East region must leave open the future of the West Bank to direct negotiations between Israel and its local partners without interference. This would include, of course, the future security arrangements for the West Bank itself. The long-standing Israeli position is that 242 does not ascribe sovereignty to the territory of the West Bank. If Russia would agree to respect this Israeli position, then all regional issues could be placed on the table for the first step, a Netanyahu-Putin summit.
As a brief introduction, let’s start out with a little history. In the aftermath of the Cold War, it was assumed in the West that Russia would fall in line. Instead of bringing the Russians into the European security system, NATO expanded to Russia’s borders. A one superpower world (Germany called it uberpower) had been born. At first, Russia had no choice but to acquiesce. However, the decade of the 1990’s turned into a Russian catastrophe. Both in economics and foreign policy, the Russian adjustment to the new unipolar world was pitiful.
Enter Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. The new century saw dramatic changes. Russia, under Putin, played a weak hand brilliantly. The economy was redirected from neoliberal nostrums to a government-driven energy sector. This altered the Russian balance of payments and made Moscow a player in European affairs. Germany required Russian energy and a new era of Ostpolitik was established.
The US, on the other hand, became mired in two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. It spent enormous resources in blood and treasure and came away weakened. As its uberpower drained, the US still maintained a foreign policy that is unipolar in nature. In the Middle East, the US now realizes that it can no longer shape events through invasion and occupation. But the US has not found a diplomatic policy to shape those same events to its unipolar advantage. Hence the stalemate with Russia over Syria and the entire region. The US has even risked the total alienation of its allies (Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel) to court the Iranians. This American policy has become highly dangerous to Israel and the moderate Arab states.
President Putin’s goal is to alter the unipolar world and tether it to the UN Security Council. It’s not that he backs Assad because he is playing the old Cold War game. Putin is definitely not. On the contrary Putin has been, and is now, playing a blocking game. It is the US that directs the game. Putin is merely demonstrating to the Americans that a unipolar world is not only difficult, it is also highly dangerous.
The US-Iranian dialog must be viewed in three contexts. First, it is a serious negotiation over the future of the Iranian nuclear program. Second, it is a search for a new regional unipolar policy that could isolate the Russians by enhancing the Iranians. Finally, it is a US admission that its old Middle East alliance structure could be by-passed for a “reformed” Iran. If this new US policy bears fruit, the big losers will be Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states, Jordan, Israel and Russia. The big winners will be Iran, Assad, the Palestinians and the US. If Nixon could go to China in order to isolate the Soviet Union, why couldn’t Rouhani go to Washington to isolate Putin? From a unipolar perspective, it makes sense. Obama’s job will be to fine-tune the public relations in such a way as to make a nuclear deal with Iran palatable. In Rouhani, Obama has found a masterful PR partner.
So, what would an Israeli-Russian agenda consist of? The foremost item (Israel’s wild card, its removal from isolation) would be a Russian sponsored Helsinki Conference on a nuclear-free-zone in the Middle East. The only way to stop an American-Iranian deal that will allow for enrichment is through this international vehicle. Once the world sees that Israel is willing to live in a zero enrichment–zero plutonium environment, Iran and its nuclear program will become instantly isolated. Nuclear weapons can never be a replacement for the true security of strategic depth and conventional forces. With the full force of the UN Security Council, no country in the region could expect to be blackmailed by nuclear weapons.
The second item would be Syria. Israel and Russia would agree to the full support of the Geneva Communique of 2012. A Syrian transitional government with full executive authority would be established without Assad. Syrian government forces and rebels could be forced through five-power pressure to accept a cease-fire. International diplomatic recognition would be given to the transitional government. Both Russia and Israel would be looking to establish the concept of the “third way”, neither Assad nor the radical jihadists.
The third item would be hegemony. In other words, the region of the Middle East must be without a hegemonic power. The invasion of one nation by another, or the use of terrorist proxies would be outlawed. Military shipments must remain between states only; they must be defensive in nature and not directed against any other state. The Middle East would become a non-nuclear, non-hegemonic region. Government forces would replace internal militias.
Finally, the guarantors for the regional balance and nuclear-free-zone would be the nations of the region themselves, along with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. A unipolar US architecture would be replaced by a more equal global system. It is in this context that the Israel-Russian card should be played. It is not meant to exclude the US from playing a significant role in the world. It is, instead, a recognition by all its partners that it is not in America’s own interest to simply go it alone. A “grand bargain” would work to enhance everyone’s security.