Russia tries to strengthen its influence in the Middle East region

By Arie Egozi

Moscow is enhancing its efforts to gain more influence in the Middle East and the Gulf and fill the gap created by Washington's decision to decrees the American presence in the area.

Moscow takes advantage of the fact that the U.S. practically has withdrawn mainly from the Gulf region to achieve greater influence.

The highly-classified Pentagon documents that have emerged over the past several weeks include specifics regarding the level of collaboration between Russia and important Arab states and cast new light on those relationships. The documents, which primarily discuss the conflict in Ukraine in various contexts, demonstrate that despite Russia’s disadvantages on the battlefield there, the economic sanctions placed on it, and US efforts to isolate it, Russia is still a significant player in the web of interests and factors that states in the area take into account.

In a paper written by Yoel Guzansky and Arakady mil-man from the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel (INSS), the researchers say that new information indicates that US influence in the Middle East has been gradually declining, and Arab states in the region seek to mitigate risks by not solely identifying with one side or the other.

“This revelation joins reports from the past year regarding the extent of assistance to Russia: the UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, purchased Russian oil – while bypassing sanctions on Moscow – and apparently sold it at a profit. The UAE also became a central destination for wealthy Russians who evaded sanctions, which prompted a flourishing real estate market in Dubai that became one of the transit hubs for goods into Russia for the “grey imports.” The number of Russian “tourists” in the UAE is now nearly one million. It was likewise reported that there are some 100 private planes owned by wealthy Russians parked at Dubai International Airport.”

According to the researchers in addition, there has been a recent improvement in ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. A prisoner exchange involving Russia and Ukraine that involved the release of a Ukrainian official connected to the Russian president took place with Saudi assistance in September 2022, and Saudi involvement in other exchanges persisted.

“A central factor in Russia’s importance to the Gulf states is its good relations with the Iranian regime, and Moscow’s ability to influence Tehran’s decisions. In the eyes of the Gulf states, the US failed to prevent Iran from going nuclear and is insufficiently attentive to their security issues, even as Iran has strengthened militarily and positioned itself at the nuclear threshold. The relationship with Russia is therefore vital to them as leverage over Iran.”

Israel is making big efforts to coordinate its actions in the region with the U.S.

On April 27 Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant met with CENTCOM Commander General Michael E. Kurilla at the MOD headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The parties discussed developing regional challenges, with a focus on Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East region. This includes Iranian aggression in the maritime arena and the delivery of weapons to terror organizations and proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and the wider region.

During the discussion, Minister Gallant expressed the concerns of the State of Israel in regards to Iran’s progress in its nuclear program and aims to achieve nuclear military capabilities.

Minister Gallant and General Kurilla expressed their shared commitment to deepen the unique cooperation and intelligence-sharing between their respective militaries and defense establishments. In addition, they stressed the importance of widening military cooperation with regional partners under CENTCOM leadership.

Minister Gallant concluded by expressing his deep appreciation for the commitment of the United States to the security of the State of Israel, and for General Kurilla’s personal contribution to the strong ties between the countries.

The meeting was attended by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Head of the IDF’s Strategic Directorate, Israel’s Defense Attache to the United States and Director of the Policy and POL-MIL Bureau in the Ministry of Defense.



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