Between the Tug of War and the Tightrope in the Russian-Iranian-Israeli Relations

Russia’s diplomacy is walking a tightrope between Iranian pressures aiming to force it to backtrack from the major shift happening in its Israel policy – most recently going as far as committing to Israeli security – and Israeli pressures querying Russia’s intensions with Iran, which in turn could determine Israel’s handling of Russia. Yet the issue has less to do with publicized statements meant for political consumption, and more to do with the Kremlin’s ultimate strategic choices. Syria is the bottom line but there are secondary lines that include the strained Russian relationship with NATO and the implications for the efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran. US President Joe Biden is at the heart of these implications and could find himself forced to reconsider many of his policies, amid Iranian-Israeli escalation and Russian repositioning.

Moscow and Tehran have said they are drawing a roadmap to conclude a ‘strategic cooperation’ agreement. In reality, the existing relationship already goes beyond cooperation and is closer to being a strategic alliance, especially in Syria where Russia, the power really in charge, still direly needs Iran and Hezbollah.

Syria remains a strategic priority for the Kremlin and President Putin wants to ‘close’ the Syrian dossier next year and declare the war there over. His vision requires ‘liberating’ what remains of Syrian territory, not from Iran – as some believe – but from the United States and Turkey. The deal he wants with the Biden administration seeks to extract US recognition of Assad’s legitimacy. Assad is the key to maintaining Russian forces in Syrian bases, which the Kremlin will never relinquish. And if the price for this is to accept the reality of strong relations between the Assad regime and the Iranian regime, the Kremlin is willing to pay it.

Yet the Israeli dilemma in this equation is not secondary. Moscow has managed to strike a covert deal with Israel in Syria, where Israel refrains from conducting operations that weaken the Assad regime, in return for Russian (and American) consent to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. There was until recently a ‘balance of silence’ in this regard: Russian silence vis-à-vis Israeli actions in Syria. Syrian silence vis-à-vis repeated Israeli military operations on its territory. Iranian silence vis-à-vis the Russian-Israeli deal. Israeli silence regarding Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria. And Iran and Hezbollah’s silence over Russia’s consent to the Israeli annexation of the Golan, which includes denying them the ability to activate ‘resistance’ against Israel from the Syrian front.

The balance of silence continued until Russia’s foreign minister, in a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart, declared that Russia is now fully committed to guaranteeing Israel’s security. This was a real game changer. The Iranian leadership was not impressed, as it made it appear to be part of regional and international secret deals that undermine its claim to be the spearhead of resistance against Israel, a claim it deploys to mobilize loyalist armies across the Arab countries led by Hezbollah. After all, silent accords are one thing, and overtly declaring Russia’s commitment to Israel’s security is another.

Thus Russia’s diplomacy was caught in a bind. During the visit of the new Iranian FM Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Moscow and his meeting with Mr. Lavrov, Abdollahian warned that the region could not tolerate any more escalation and provocation. He said Tehran would not accept any geopolitical shifts in the region, and will not accept a strengthened terrorist and ‘Zionist’ presence across it, citing the Southern Caucasus where tensions are increasing between Iran and Turkish-Israeli backed Azerbaijani government. According to informed sources, Iran is willing to use military force in Azerbaijan, if necessary, given the importance of strategic land corridors there.

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Iranian, Qatari Ministers Meet Amid Iran-US tensions

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, is pictured at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 9, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Iran’s foreign minister met his visiting counterpart from US-allied Qatar on Thursday, state media reported, as Tehran and Washington appear to be at an impasse over the fate of talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran on Wednesday warned Western states against rebuking it at the International Atomic Energy Agency after the UN atomic watchdog’s latest reports criticized the country, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said time was running out to revive the deal with world powers.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani was in Tehran days after Blinken visited the Gulf Arab state, which has good ties with Iran.

In his talks with Sheikh Mohammed, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called for boosting trade ties and reiterated Tehran’s support for an Afghan government including all factions, Iranian state media reported, without referring to any talks about the nuclear negotiations.

Indirect talks between US President Joe Biden’s administration and Iran on how both countries could return to compliance with the deal have not resumed since President Ebrahim Raisi, an anti-Western hardliner, took office on Aug. 5.

Qatar has emerged as the main mediator between the Taliban, who swept into Kabul on Aug. 15, and Western countries following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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Lapid in Moscow: Israel reserves right to act against Iran to prevent nukes

“Iran’s march towards a nuclear weapon is not only an Israeli problem; it’s a problem for the entire world,” said Israel’s foreign minister.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Sept. 9, 2021. Source: Yair Lapid/Twitter.

 Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said during a state visit to Moscow on Thursday that the Jewish state reserves the right to act to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

After meeting with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Lapid said during a joint press conference that “a nuclear Iran will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

As such, he called for a strong, clear message to be sent to the Islamic Republic.

He said “Iran’s march towards a nuclear weapon is not only an Israeli problem; it’s a problem for the entire world.”

The two foreign ministers also discussed Israel’s attacks on Iranian activity in Syria.

Lavrov said Russia is opposed to Syrian territory being exploited for attacks against Israel or any other country. He added that Russian and Israeli military officers conduct continuous security dialogue on a daily basis regarding Syria, adding that such coordination has proven its efficiency.

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6 ships in Gulf of Oman lose control, days after vessel attacked by drones

Reports say Iranian-backed forces may have seized Asphalt Princess tanker; British military calls it a ‘potential hijack’

The Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates on August 3, 2021. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — At least six ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates broadcast warnings Tuesday that they had lost control of their steering under unclear circumstances as British authorities reported “a potential hijack” was underway in the area.

It wasn’t immediately clear what was happening off the coast of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.

According to the Reuters news agency, which quoted two security maritime sources, Iranian-backed forces were believed to have seized one of the tankers.

 

Shipping authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global both identified the vessel involved as Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess. The vessel’s owner, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The six vessels announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.

“At the same time, if they are in the same vicinity and in the same place, then very rarely that happens,” said Ranjith Raja, an oil and shipping expert with data firm Refintiv. “Not all the vessels would lose their engines or their capability to steer at the same time.”

One of the vessels later began moving.

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Israel: EU legitimizing terror by sending diplomat to Raisi inauguration

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has stated that the EU is legitimizing Iranian aggression by sending its deputy foreign affairs chief to the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021.
(photo credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

The EU is legitimizing Iranian aggression by sending its deputy foreign affairs chief to the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated on Monday.

 
Enrique Mora, the EU coordinator in Iran nuclear talks and deputy secretary-general of the European External Action Services, the EU’s foreign ministry, plans to attend Raisi’s inauguration. The event is set to take place less than a week after Iran attacked an Israeli-managed ship of the coast of Oman, killing a citizen of Romania – an EU member state, and a British national.
 
Israel called on the EU to cancel its participation in the event.
 
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat said “the decision of the European Union to send a senior representative to the swearing-in ceremony of the ‘Butcher of Tehran’ is puzzling and shows poor judgment.”
 
 
 
Raisi’s nickname refers to the former judge’s role in the execution of thousands of Iranian dissidents, which earned him US sanctions for human rights violations.
 
Calling the attack on the Mercer Street an act of state-sponsored terror, Haiat said EU attendance at Raisi’s swearing in “gives legitimacy to the Iranian attack and the policy of aggression of the ayatollahs’ government.”
 
Former EU high representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini attended the inauguration of Iran’s departing president, Hassan Rouhani.
 
However, the current ceremony is taking place after a nearly two-months break from indirect negotiations between Iran and the US to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
 
Mora’s visit to Iran is meant in part to break the impasse and revive the talks, The Wall Street Journal reported.
 
Some of the European parties to the 2015 Iran deal – the UK, France and Germany, known as the E3 – objected to sending Mora to the inauguration, but none of the non-E3 European Union member states opposed it, according to The Wall Street Journal.
 
Earlier Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that “Iran should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done.”
 
“This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping. A UK national died. It is absolutely vital that Iran and every other country, respects the freedoms of navigation around the world and the UK will continue to insist on that,” Johnson added.
 
The US, UK and Romania have said they are coordinating a response to the Iranian attack.
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Ebrahim Raisi takes office as Iran’s president, vows to fight U.S. sanctions

Iranian religious leader Ali khamenei hands over the presidential precept to new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (R) during a ceremony Tuesday in Tehran, Iran. Photo courtesy Iranian Supreme Leader Office/EPA-EFE

Aug. 3 (UPI) — Iran’s next president, Ebrahim Raisi, was formally endorsed on Tuesday by Iranian religious leader Ali Khamenei and took office during a ceremony in Tehran.

Raisi during the ceremony promised to take actions to lift “cruel sanctions” imposed by the United States, and said he would not tie the country’s future with the West.

As Iran’s eighth president, he also noted that he plans to continue talks with world powers concerning the 2015 nuclear deal. He succeeds Hassan Rouhani, who has led the Islamic nation since 2013.
 
Raisi, 60, also spoke about comprehensive economic and health plans to help lift Iran from the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also pledged to fight corruption and restore people’s trust in government.
 
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Rouhani says Iran ‘did not tell part of the truth’ during his time in office

Outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged in an address on Saturday that the government in Tehran “did not tell part of the truth” at times during his eight years in office.

As Reuters reports, Rouhani made his remarks during his last cabinet meeting as president and just days after he was lectured by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the country’s recent failures in nuclear negotiations.

“What we told people was not contrary to reality, but we did not tell part of the truth to people,” Rouhani said.  “Because I did not find it useful and I was afraid it would harm national unity.”

Rouhani did not specify what he was referring to with the remarks, Reuters reports.

“If we have a defect, we apologize to the people and ask them for forgiveness and mercy,” he added.

Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Khamenei, won Iran’s presidential election last month. The hardline cleric’s ascension could complicate the ongoing nuclear negotiations, with critics pointing to his history of allegedly “disappearing” political dissidents. 

Rouhani blamed former President Trump, who withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, for much of Iran’s problems. Trump’s decision to withdraw caused the Iranian rial to plummet in value and prevented Tehran from following through with some plans due to lack of funds.

“We did not have the money to buy due to sanctions and not selling oil, but the contract is completely ready,” Rouhani said, referring to the Iranian nuclear deal.

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AS AMERICA FOCUSES ON INTERNAL STRIFE, A WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND IRAN COULD LITERALLY START AT ANY MOMENT

You won’t hear the corporate media say very much about the “shadow war” that Israel and Iran are currently engaged in, because the corporate media is absolutely obsessed with covering the internal strife that is tearing the U.S. apart right now.  But if they were doing their jobs correctly, corporate media outlets would be focusing on the Middle East, because the conflict between Israel and Iran could literally spark a major global war at any moment.

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Iran’s Zarif blames Israel for Natanz incident, vows revenge

Contrary to last year’s attack on Natanz, Iran has chosen not to shy away from directly blaming Israel and singling out its efforts to derail nuclear talks in Vienna.

Tehran, Iran – Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif vowed revenge against Israel for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear facilities at Natanz but said it will not stop high-level talks to restore the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In a private meeting with lawmakers on Monday, Zarif pointed out that top Israeli officials explicitly said they would try to prevent multilateral efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which would lead to lifting United States sanctions on Iran.

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Iran, Russia and Turkey signal growing alliance

For years, Turkey would say one thing to Moscow and Tehran while telling Washington’s Iran hawks that Turkey was “against Russia and Iran.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was very content during a trip to Turkey on Friday. He said it was productive and smiled alongside his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. He said it was a “wonderful” trip where he spoke with his “brother Cavusoglu.”
 
The trip signals the growing alliance that Turkey and Iran have in the region.
 
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