As a deal on the Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions emerged earlier this year, it was obvious that all the countries of the region apart from Iran’s client states are concerned about this deal. Yet while Israel was very vocal about its opposition to the deal, Saudi Arabia and Turkey chose to keep quiet. They probably calculated that their vocal opposition won’t change Obama’s determination, and will show unwarranted alignment with Israel.
Does this mean that Israel’s tactic was wrong and that Netanyahu had put emotion ahead of reason? Not necessarily, for Israel has a very different audience in the West, and particularly in the US, than, say, the Saudis. The issue of Netanyahu’s tactic in this case is complicated and controversial, and is outside the scope of this post.
More recently Netanyahu showed that he is fully capable of exercising restraint and patience when required. When Russia started its intervention in defence of the Assad regime, the West and Turkey loudly protested that Russia is hitting the wrong guys. Arguably Israel too has very good reasons to be very concerned about Russian intervention, for it is bound to strengthen their main local enemy – Hezbollah, which is closely aligned with Assad. Israel has no friends among diverse forces in Syria but has demonstrated on many occasions that indeed Hezbollah and its backers Assad and the Iranians are their number one enemy. Yet Israel chose to keep quiet about the Russian intervention.
The thinking is probably similar to the Saudi thinking on the Iran deal. Israel’s protestations will not change Putin’s mind and can only damage relations with Russia. So it is wiser to keep quiet and maybe even get some reward for this. On the eve of the Russian intervention Netanyahu flew to Moscow to discuss coordination, aimed to avoid any accidental clash between Russian and Israeli aircraft. I would even speculate that maybe they extracted an understanding that the the Russians will not help Assad/Hezbollah in the vicinity of the Israeli territory.
Last week an Israeli official was asked if Israel would hypothetically intercept a Russian jet that crossed into its air space, the official said: “Our policy is that we do not attack or down anything that is Russian. Russia is not an enemy,…”