Israel is stereotypically thought of as a country that interacts mainly with the Western unipolar world (reinforced in part due to the country’s own unipolar attitude in the Mideast), but such an image isn’t entirely accurate. Although one may not realize it because of the mainstream media blackout on the topic, the multipolar-oriented states of Turkey, Russia, India, and China (TRICs) have all established closer ties with Israel than meet the untrained eye. The TRICs each have their own reasons for increasing their interactions with Israel, while Russia and China may even have a strategic trick or two up their sleeves.
Let’s take a look at the TRICs’ interactions with Israel that the mainstream media has been ignoring:
For all of its tough-guy rhetoric against Israel, Turkey is actually surprisingly close with the country in both energy and military terms. It hosts two major pipelines that supply Israel with oil, one coming from Azerbaijan (40% of Israel’s needs) and the other from Iraqi Kurdistan. Being the ‘Mideast Ukraine’ (complete with its own Balkanization potential), it could easily shut off Israel’s oil needs if push ever came to shove, but it chooses not to do this because the so-called ‘rivalry’ between the two is an absolutely false construction designed for political means, and it will be described in the subsequent section. Pertaining to military affairs, the two countries coordinate their destabilization activities against Syria, and there were reports in 2013 that Turkey even allowed Israel to use one of its bases to carry out a strike in Latakia. All of this implies a deeper level of military cooperation than is publicly admitted by either side.
Moscow’s interactions with Israel focus on the ethnic/linguistic and energy spheres. Over 1,000,000 Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel after 1991, making it the third-largest non-former-Soviet country for native Russian speakers and positioning ethnic Russians as 15% of the total population. This transformed the social fabric of the country, and Russians have been recognized as the most successful group of immigrants who ever came to the country. On the energy side of things, Gazprom procured the exclusive rights in 2013 to sell LNG from Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field, one of the largest in the world and estimated to hold a total of 238 billion cubic meters of supply.
The South Asian state has recently reinvigorated its relations with Israel (which had warmed up considerably since the end of the Cold War), ostensibly due to the two country’s shared terrorism threat. The two are now engaged in a strategic relationship which has born the fruits of a half-billion dollar weapons deal reached last October, no doubt influenced by the facts that India is already the largest purchaser of Israeli weaponry and the host of its second-largest military delegation (behind only the US). Thus, it’s not without reason that Netanyahu said a month earlier in September that “the sky is the limit” for bilateral relations. Nonetheless, these appear to have come at the expense of India’s historic ties with Palestine, as New Delhi is reportedly reconsidering the UN support it has been providing the struggling state for decades.
As Netanyahu described it, “China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and fast becoming perhaps Israel’s largest trading partner, period, as we move into the future.” This may likely turn out to be the case, especially since China is incorporating Israel into its Maritime Silk Road via the ‘Red-Med’ project. This sees China building a railroad connecting Israel’s Red and Mediterranean Sea coasts supposedly as an alternative to the Suez Canal, in the event that transit there is ever disrupted. There’s actually a deeper strategic component at play here (as with China’s other regional Silk Road initiatives), but this will be discussed more below.
The Bigger Idea
Each of these actors has a larger goal in mind that is furthered by its interactions with Israel:
Ankara plays off its false rivalry with Israel in the hopes of securing political points in the ‘Arab street’. Turkey has visions of restoring its former imperial legacy under a policy of ‘Neo-Ottomanism’, which incorporates both domestic social/religious and international political factors. In short, it wants to undergo a pseudo-reinvention of its role whereby it returns to being the world’s preeminent Muslim
state (following an ideology of ‘Islamist chic’), but understanding that its actual relationship with Israel would obviously prevent that, it resorts to certain boisterous means to try to deflect from this reality and ‘win hearts and minds’ throughout the Mideast. The reason that Israel goes along with this ploy is because it, just like the US, stands to gain by having Turkey become the ‘Lead From Behind’ designator for unipolar affairs in the region.
Now, however, the situation is becoming more complex as Turkey seeks to pull itself out from under the unipolar boot and try its hand at multipolarity. Under such circumstances, Turkey is expected to play everybody for its own benefit (including its historic Western ‘partners’), and taken to its logical long-term conclusion, this may eventually be extended to include Israel as well. Although this has yet to happen (if at all), if the situation transpired where Turkey was serious about pressuring Israel and felt that it could withstand the existential repercussion of Western- and Israeli- support Kurdish separatism, then it may use its energy leverage in an attempt to enact some kind of political dividends. However, this scenario is still unlikely since Turkey has a stronger self-interested stake in being a reliable energy route for all of its customers than it does in taking a very risky gamble and toying with Israel’s taps.
Moscow’s objectives are radically different than those of Ankara’s, and it doesn’t shy away from putting its relationship with Israel on full display. Looked at from the energy perspective first, Russia wants to use its Tamar LNG deal to position itself as a major Eastern Mediterranean gas player, and the contract should be seen as a stepping stone towards this end. It may think that being a reliable LNG partner for the Tamar field may translate into a future contract to do the same for Leviathan, the largest offshore deposit to be found in the past decade with an estimated reserve of 620 billion cubic meters. Aside from advancing its energy-business interests, Russia may have its sights set on utilizing its ethno-cultural anchors in Israel in order to expand its influence directly within the country and among some of its future decision makers.
By itself, these are nothing more than promising speculation without much substance, but when combined with China’s strategy, Russia’s begins to flesh out and take shape. Accordingly, more will be written about the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership as it applies to Israel in the follow-up piece, and it will then make more sense as to why the details were kept intentionally vague at this point.
The country’s foreign policy is defined by two main concerns, and that is countering China and Pakistan, both of which are strategic allies with one another. Modi’s BJP ruling party is considered to follow a strand of Hindu nationalism that puts it at odds with South Asian Muslims and Pakistan, thus raising the prospects of a theoretical ‘clash of civilizations’. Keeping in mind the rivalry with Pakistan, the BJP’s Hindu nationalism, and the ever-present specter of a ‘clash of civilizations’, one can better understand why India would embrace Israel and even happily do so at the possible expense of Palestine.
India is still a multipolar-oriented state, but it has no qualms about cooperating with the unipolar world when it feels that this can enhance its position in regional affairs, thus making it very similar to Turkey. This interpretation explains not only its burgeoning relationship with Israel (which it uses to enhance its position in South Asia), but also its close cooperation with Japan in Southeast Asia via its Act East policy and its privileged nuclear cooperation with deepening partnership with the US. Tack on the shared terrorist concerns briefly mentioned earlier, and India’s relations with Israel make perfect (if unethical) sense.
The idea underpinning Beijing’s strategy is to find a way to position Israel into its global economic framework. The Silk Road plans can typically be seen as Chinese-supervised multilateral partnerships in strategic regions of the world, but in the case of Israel’s surprise incorporation into this framework, it’s more of a bilateral one due to the absence of any other neighboring partner. China may intend to use the Red-Med corridor to transport not only goods, but also gas, with each going in a different direction. Chinese goods can enter the Israeli market in exchange for Israeli gas (either via LNG rail or pipeline) flowing towards the port for shipment to China.
This simple concept – Chinese goods in exchange for Israeli gas – forms the crux of the bilateral relationship, and interestingly enough, it actually has the strong potential for a (shadow) Russian role that would thus make it multilateral.
To be followed by “The Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership Strikes Israel”
Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.