Is the latest Israel-Palestine conflict Russia’s opening to the Middle East?
Israel continues its attacks on Palestinian civilians
Dozens of air strikes pounded Gaza on Tuesday as US President Joe Biden expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A new front in the conflict opened as the Israeli military said it also shelled Lebanon in response to six failed rocket launches from southern areas in the neighbouring country.
Biden held his third phone conversation with Netanyahu since violence flared on May 10 and expressed support for a ceasefire. But the US president stopped short of demanding an end to the violence.
At least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, have been killed in Gaza since the attacks began. About 1,500 Palestinians have been wounded. Twelve people in Israel have died, including two children, while at least 300 have been wounded.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett reporting from Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank said the protests there are likely to continue.
“It is another expression of protest, of trying to confront and make known these people’s feelings about what they’ve been seeing on their televisions and on their phones just as we all have, coming out of Gaza and Jerusalem and also their experiences on a daily basis,” Fawcett said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has expressed his support for a de-escalation in a call with his Israeli counterpart, the Pentagon has said.
“Austin reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself and to protect Israeli civilians, and lamented the loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
“Austin expressed his support for de-escalation of the conflict and the restoration of calm,” Kirby said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says a Palestinian protester has been killed and dozens more were wounded when gunshots rang out at a large demonstration in the occupied West Bank.
Russia’s involvement in the conflict
Russia is ready to organize direct Palestinian-Israeli talks to de-escalate rising tensions between the two sides, Russian foreign minister said on Monday.
Addressing a news conference in Moscow after a meeting with his Sierra Leone counterpart David John Francis, Sergey Lavrov called on the Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting.
“In order for direct negotiations — and only through them can we agree on the creation of a Palestinian state that will live in peace and security, in accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council, side by side with Israel and other countries in the region, — in order for such negotiations to begin, it is necessary to stop violence on all sides,” he said.
Lavrov recalled that UN resolutions on the Palestinian problem provide for the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy places, and strictly prohibit illegal Israeli activities.
“We condemn attacks from both sides, targeting residential areas. Strikes against civilian targets are unacceptable,” Lavrov said.
The minister also condemned the Israeli settlement activities, saying: “It is taking such extreme forms as throwing people out on the street”.
“We believe that the international community must not be indifferent to what is happening. There is the quartet [on the Middle East] of international mediators who are directly obliged to contribute to the solution of the Palestinian question,” he said.
The minister added that the UN Security Council “sent all necessary signals” after Sunday’s meeting, and that “now everything depends on the parties’ ability to negotiate and their goodwill.”
“We will help them find agreements both to calm the current very hot phase of the conflict and to start negotiations as soon as possible,” he said.
Francis said Sierra Leone considers that “a reliable and lasting peace” to the Palestinian problem is only possible through political negotiations and the establishment of two states.
“It should be two states Israel and Palestine that live side by side in peace and security, that is our position,” he said.
The Israeli military has staged airstrikes across the Gaza Strip since May 10, killing at least 200 Palestinians including women and children, and leaving behind a massive trail of destruction. Media offices and health centers are among the structures targeted.
Is this Russia’s opening?
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Friday that the current escalation between Israel and Palestine poses a direct threat to Russia’s security.
Holding a meeting with the Russian Security Council, Putin suggested discussing the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza Strip prior to the agreed agenda.
“I would like to ask my colleagues to comment on the current situation in the Middle East, I mean the escalated Palestinian-Israeli conflict – this is happening in the immediate vicinity of our borders and directly affects our security interests,” he said.
Many Israelis were surprised to hear of this expanded definition of Russia’s borders, but Moscow had previously noted that the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East was taking place in proximity to Russia, particularly regarding Syria and “the spread of the terrorist threat from there”.
Explaining what Putin meant by the proximity of the region to Russia’s borders, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “Many countries [there] have difficult relations. The region has a somewhat fragile system of security and a huge lack of mutual trust. The potential for conflict does not contribute to the stabilization of the region. The Middle East is not on another continent, it is a region adjacent to us. Were this conflict to continue and spread uncontrollably, it would obviously pose a danger” to Russia, he added.
However, Russia’s actions point towards a different motivation. It is becoming increasingly visible that Russia sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a geopolitical opening towards expanding influence in the Middle East.
Russia has traditionally excelled at exploiting crises in the Middle East as a way to boost its own global stature, but the sharp escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent weeks has left Moscow uncharacteristically muted initially, but now more engaged.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was more assertive, demanding from Israel a termination of the latter’s settlement activity in the occupied territories and condemning the attempts to alter the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of Jerusalem (RIA Novosti, May 12). This stance, however, was softened rather than reinforced by the indifferent signals from the Kremlin, for which Ukraine continues to be the main preoccupation
Such attempts are therefore unlikely to succeed.