From the early days of the Gaza war, Russia aligned itself with Hamas, while refraining from unequivocally condemning its barbaric terrorist attack.
At the same time, Russia has been accusing Israel of a disproportionate response that led to widespread destruction and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Russia also claims that the United States bears responsibility for escalating violence. It even proposed a ceasefire in the UN Security Council and vetoed an American proposal condemning Hamas and supporting Israel's right to self-defense.
Russian support for Hamas is also evident in hosting a high-ranking delegation of the terrorist movement and launching an extensive disinformation campaign on social media. This involves using artificial intelligence capabilities and bots to spread propaganda messages, alongside Ukrainian assistance to Hamas.
All of this is occurring alongside a noticeable increase in anti-Semitic expressions in Russia, often accusing Jews of dual loyalty and prioritizing Israeli interests over those of Russia.
The backdrop is the strengthening strategic axis between Russia and Iran, especially amid the war in Ukraine and the increasing collaboration in military, intelligence, and technological fields. This is manifested also in the supply of Iranian offensive UAVs to Russia—a move that amplifies the capabilities of the Russian military in Ukraine.
The Russian conduct essentially reflects the deterioration trend in the bilateral relationship between Israel and Russia over the past two years, particularly since Netanyahu returned to the position of Prime Minister.
This is particularly prominent given the close ties between Netanyahu and Putin until the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Furthermore, in Russia's view, the war between Israel and Hamas extends beyond the borders of Gaza and has regional and even global implications.
According to this approach, Moscow believes that the broad military and diplomatic support of the United States for Israel, along with President Biden's statements emphasizing the importance of Israel and Ukraine's success in their respective wars against Hamas and Russia, underscores that this is another facet in the conflict with the Americans.
From this perspective, the destabilization of the region and turning the American and European attention toward the Middle East plays into Moscow's hands.
Moreover, in Russia's view, the extensive military aid provided by the U.S. to Israel may allow Israel to undermine the scale of military assistance it provides to Ukraine. This is particularly evident in recent months, with reports suggesting that the U.S. has faced difficulties in meeting the needs of the Ukrainian military due to the latter’s extensive use of ammunition.
It would appear that for Moscow, Israeli success in eliminating the military and political capabilities of Hamas would constitute a significant blow to Iran's influence. This, in turn, could have implications for Russia's standing in the region.
In essence, according to Russia's perspective, it's a zero-sum game. Israeli success means American success. This, in Moscow's view, could lead to an improvement in the U.S. position in the Middle East and possibly pave the way for that significant agreement between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
These developments could potentially harm Russia's direct interests, both globally and in the Middle East specifically. For instance, Saudi Arabia's willingness to assist in reducing oil prices by increasing production—a move that Riyadh has generally refrained from in the past two years despite repeated requests from the U.S.—could impact Russia's income as one of the world's largest oil exporters.
The implication is that Israel needs to change its approach towards Russia and consider it it as a rival acting both directly and indirectly to counter its efforts to topple Hamas. Given these circumstances, Israel must align itself with the Western stance and stand clearly and unequivocally alongside Kyiv, both in statements and actions.
A first step, primarily of symbolic importance, could be a visit by President Zelensky to Israel. This has significant symbolic importance, especially given reports that Israel rejected his request to visit during the early days of the war and the fact that Netanyahu avoided visiting Ukraine in the past year, contrary to many Western leaders.
In any case, on the day after the war, Israel will need to formulate a new strategy for dealing with Ukraine, particularly concerning security cooperation between the two countries.
Dr. Shay Har-Zvi is a senior fellow and the head of the International and Middle-East Arenas in the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at Reichman University.