With the upsurge in violence in the Middle East dominating the international news agenda, Moscow is counting on dramatic headlines from Israel to divert attention from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
But this is about more than just changing the news cycle. The Russian authorities are also hoping that, as a result of the situation in the Middle East, some Western arms supplies to Ukraine will be redirected to Israel.
“I believe this crisis will directly influence the course of the special military operation [in Ukraine],” Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov told the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.
“Ukraine’s sponsors will be distracted by the conflict in Israel. That doesn’t mean that the West will abandon Ukrainians. But the amount of military aid will go down….and the course of the operation may turn sharply in [Russia’s] favour.”
Wishful thinking on Russia’s part? Quite possibly.
“We can and will stand by Israel, even as we stand by Ukraine,” said US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at a meeting of Nato defence ministers.
But a protracted conflict in the Middle East will test America’s capacity to simultaneously support two allies in two separate wars.
Meanwhile, Russia has ties to Hamas and has become a close ally of Iran. According to the US, Moscow and Teheran now have a fully-fledged defence partnership.
But that doesn’t mean Moscow had direct involvement in, or prior knowledge of the Hamas attack on Israel.
“We do not believe that Russia was involved in any way,” Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Ben Zvi, told the Kommersant newspaper this week, adding that it was “complete nonsense” to suggest there was a Russian connection to the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of direct Russian weapons supplies to Hamas, or of the Russian military training Hamas operatives,” says Hanna Notte, a Berlin-based expert on Russia and the Middle East at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
“It’s true that Russia has a long relationship with Hamas. Russia never declared Hamas a terrorist organisation. Hamas delegations were in Moscow last year and this year.
“But I would not infer from that that there has been extensive military support. Even though we know that Russian-made systems made their way into the Gaza strip, probably via the Sinai [in Egypt] and with Iranian assistance.”