Zvi Magen | הזירה

"Russia currently has a greater ability to harm the peace process than to help advance it"

Zvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia

How does Russia think it might benefit from Trump's peace plan?

Moscow does not support Trump's emerging plan, because as it seems at the moment, if accepted, the plan will push Russia out of the Middle East,  where it has been trying to get itself involving again in recent years. Russia stands to gain very little from Trump's peace plan if it is not invited to take part in it. The US, of course, is aware of this, and I believe that Trump will offer Russia a role in the plan. It is likely that President Vladimir Putin has already “paid” him by keeping the Iranian forces away from the Syrian-Israeli border, and now expects the US to do its part by proposing his participation in the plan currently being formulated by the administration.

 

It is important to note that Trump's regional plan may well clash with Moscow’s broader interests vis-à-vis the other major players in the agreement - Washington and Brussels. Europe is very suspicious of the plan due to its fear that the US president will agree to concessions on Europe’s eastern border, in exchange for the Kremlin’s support for his peace plan. For this reason, European countries are pressuring Trump to make concessions in the Middle East rather than in Europe.

Photo: Chen Galili, with permission by photographer

What does Russia think the agreement could cost it?

Russia is deeply involved in Syria and in other places in the Middle East, including, to some extent, in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. This is because membership in the club of global powers is often measured by a state’s involvement in international processes, systems, agreements and projects. A regional American plan in which many countries and actors in the region are engaged – including some that maintain close ties with Russia - but from which Moscow is excluded, will severely disrupt its plans in the region. Instead of pushing the United States out of the Middle East, Russia may be the one to find itself on the outside. It can therefore be understood why Moscow has taken such a negative approach to the plan.

What can Russia contribute to the advancing of the agreement?

Russia is the only major country which can exert any type of influence on some of the more "problematic" players in the region - Syria, Iran, the Shi’ite forces, and, to a certain extent, Gaza. Russia is careful to maintain its relations with entities that Israel considers terrorist organizations - Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad - and is therefore one of the few countries that has a degree of influence over them. In this respect, if it is in Russia’s interest, it can restrain these groups. In other words, its main potential contribution is its ability to prevent damage.

Which obstacles is Russia liable to mount, and how can it sabotage the process?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was invited by Putin to the World Cup final in Russia in mid-July, and he may now be setting his sights on the Kremlin given his disappointment in the White House. Moscow, for its part, can always offer him an alternative plan. It can also cause actors like Hezbollah and the Shi’ite forces in Syria to take action against Trump's plan - whether by encouraging them to express their disapproval of it, or by demanding that they actively interfere. At the diplomatic level, Russia is a very important actor because it has questionable allies who can sabotage the plan – and this ability is not insignificant. The bottom line is that Russia now has a greater ability to harm the peace process than to help advance it.

Zvi Magen was Israel's ambassador to Russia and Ukraine and head of the Nativ organization. Today he is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and heads its research program on Russia. He spent over 20 years in various positions in Israel's foreign service. He served in IDF Military Intelligence, completing his service with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

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