Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary on May 14. In a display of unity, the United States and as many as 10 other nations have pledged to move their embassies to Jerusalem. Yet, against this historic backdrop, the fraying relations between Israel’s two key allies have forced the nation into a precarious dance. 

The Israel-Russia-U.S. Two-Step

The U.S. has maintained a snug alliance with Israel throughout its 70-year existence. In fact, President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the provisional government of Israel. That occurred 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948.

The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel once it became a legal entity three days later. The USSR withdrew its support of Israel after the 1967 Six-Days War (also known as the Arab-Israeli War), choosing to side with its Arab allies. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many Russian Jews moved to Israel. They now make up 25 percent of Israel’s population.

Kinship between Russia and Israel warmed in the 2000s, allowing Israel to dance with both Russia and the U.S. In this diplomatic two-step, Benjamin Netanyahu seeks:

  • Russia’s protection among its Arab allies
  • American military aid, intelligence sharing and unity in United Nations proceedings.

Of late, Israel’s dance partners have wedged it into a role more closely resembling the referee in a boxing match between the world’s two superpowers.

Iran and Syria Cut In

During the Cold War, the USSR built its only Mediterranean naval base in Syria, one of many Arab countries that denounces Israel.

Since 2009, Russia has renovated and upgraded the Syrian base to accommodate larger vessels. It has armed Syria to fight terrorism and keep radical Islam out of its own country. When the U.S. backed away from the Middle East, Russia saw its opportunity to re-establish itself as a superpower by filling the vacuum left by the U.S.

Russia has enjoyed a close relationship with Iran for centuries, but the union has grown since United Nations economic sanctions crippled the Iranian economy. Russia is now Iran’s strongest trading partner.

The nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China and Germany improved Iran’s economy overnight. It allowed Iran to invest in terror activities and build military bases in Syria. Its key goal is still to remove Israel from the face of the earth.

To keep Syria and Iran from becoming more of a threat, Israel has undertaken regular military strikes in Syria. Russia has mostly looked the other way. While Israel may not support Russia in the United Nations, in order to earn Russia's tolerance, Israel generally declines to take part in diplomatic discipline aimed at the superpower.

 A Painful Vice

“It has definitely been a goal of Israeli policy to avoid confronting Russia on a number of issues that have been a cause of friction between Russia and the West,” said Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017 and currently a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “But if we see an open conflict emerge between Russia and the U.S., I don’t think Israel could afford that luxury,” he added. “Israel’s primary alliance is, of course, with the United States. Israel will stand beside the United States, but this would be a particularly painful vise to be caught in.”

Israel continues to need both the United States and Russia on its side, but a push for Middle East dominance is making it harder for Netanyahu to sustain both his diplomatic dance and the role of referee between the superpowers.

Breaking News This Week

In a speech broadcast live Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of lying about its nuclear program and revealed information he said showed the Islamic Republic had for years worked on developing nuclear weapons, and that it has put plans in place to pursue such weapons despite signing the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The premier, who has repeatedly called for the accord between world powers and Iran to either be altered or scrapped, said Israel had obtained 100,000 secret Iranian files a few weeks ago “in one of the greatest achievements of Israeli intelligence.”

The cache, he said, contained “incriminating documents, incriminating charts, incriminating presentations, incriminating blueprints, incriminating photos, incriminating videos and more.”

 Pray for Israel

  • Praise God for Israel’s astonishing achievements in the past 70 years, especially given the consistent threats and attacks coming from all borders.
  • Please continue praying for God’s protection over Israel and the IDF, Israel’s military, as the situation in the Middle East becomes increasingly volatile, especially in light of the latest information about Iran’s nuclear activities. 

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