Russia Challenges US Mid-East Role
Image Credit: The White House

Russia Challenges US Mid-East Role


The defeat of US President Barack Obama by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu over the question of West Bank settlements has delivered a shock to the international system.

Netanyahu was able to brush aside Obama’s repeated requests to freeze settlement expansion largely because of the influence of Israel’s friends inside the US political system—an influence which has now been enhanced by the gains of right-wing, pro-Israel Republicans in last month’s US Congressional elections.

Outside of the United States, there’s been widespread amazement and alarm at this latest setback to US Middle East diplomacy—and to Obama personally—which has prompted a rethink of what can realistically be expected from Washington in the coming year to help resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indeed, there’s a growing tendency in the European Union and Russia to challenge the US monopoly of the Arab-Israeli peace-process, which has proved ineffective, and to demand firm joint action.

Already, 26 former European leaders have sent a letter to EU President Van Rompuy and Vice-President Catherine Ashton calling on the European Union to make comprehensive proposals for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a clear time-frame and terms of reference.

This is hardly surprising—if the Arab-Israeli conflict isn’t resolved, and if Israeli expansion at the expense of the Palestinians continues unchecked, there’s widespread fear that Islamic extremism will flourish, and with it, terrorist assaults on Western cities.

Russian impatience with the United States has also become increasingly clear, and was underscored by leading Russian experts at a two-day conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict held in Malta at the weekend. The meeting was attended by a strong contingent of Russian Middle East experts, including former Russian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov; Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Federation’s parliament; Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences; as well as many other officials, ambassadors and journalists. It was also striking how many of these Russians were fluent Arabic speakers.

Several dozen participants from the Arab world, Israel, the United States and Europe also attended the conference, which was organised by the Valdai Discussion Club—an initiative launched by RIA Novosti and the Russian Council for Foreign and Defence Policythat also appears to have the strong backing of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself.

February 23, 2012 at 14:56

There is no eeivdnce of rape and the people of Iran support the Islamic Republic. You belong to a small minority that tries to forget that on the anniversary of the Revolution the people once again gave their full support to the IRI.

February 21, 2012 at 23:20

Pak,I had the same qtieuson (what is Arabia ?).Syrians wishing for greater political liberties probably need to find a way to help force Israel out of the Golan Heights. For obvious reasons.

February 21, 2012 at 21:06

I am honpig that Russia participates in an embargo against Iran. The U.N. needs to step in on this. If the threat of Iran creating nuclear weapons continues to be unchecked then there will be more to worry about than Israel.

February 21, 2012 at 10:27

The RAC, the arm of the Reform mvonmeet, is even worse and they have tax exempt status. At least the NJDC admits its an arm of the Democrat party. The RAC has no excuse.

Mr Katz
January 8, 2011 at 03:54

To the last two posters: pride comes before the fall, and the fall usually catches the falling off-guard. So it’s not surprising to see Americans telling themselves “our power has yet to decline”…

Bruce Wayne
December 18, 2010 at 07:11

Dual mediation would work and the EU wouldn’t cower at charges of anti-semitism, like the US does. Europe has a very clear understanding of Israel/Palestine, to the chagrin of AIPAC and Likud government. Zionism is racism.

Bruce Wayne
December 18, 2010 at 07:04

The dog and pony show that is US involvement in Israel/Palestine conflict must end. The Likud government doesn’t want peace and Israel continues to wage genocide against Palestinians. Kudos to the European left for being critical and honest and advocating for an honest broker to help resolve conflict.

Diana Grant
December 17, 2010 at 02:11

Typical Euro rubbish,Nothing to read here.In excess of 60% of the American public support Israel not the collection of of Palestinian strongmen who call daily for it’s destruction.If the thinly disguised anti-Semites of the European left actually knew what they were talking about, they could stop whining about those perfidious American “joos”. Moreover, Obama doomed his own initiative, much like he dooms most everything that he touches, by insisting that a freeze was a pre-condition to talks, thereby adding a new obstacle to the negotiations. Is there no one commenting on the Middle East in that part of the world who can get over their own bigotry?

Ken Besig, Israel
December 17, 2010 at 01:29

Patrick Seale has lost whatever credibility he had regarding the Middle East long ago, and his fawning worship of the Arabs in practically every possible way has negated his professional standing.
Seale’s suggestion that the international community was shocked, yes shocked by the Israelis turning down Obama’s building freeze idea is an opinion shared by no one else.
His silly and outlandish suggestion that Russia could become a player in the Israeli Palestinian negotiations is an example of this. The Israelis would sooner have the Iranians arbitrate the peace process.
The United States is the only serious arbitrator available.

Tom Mitchell
December 17, 2010 at 01:02

For the last two years I’ve been proposing that Washington imitate the Anglo-Irish model of dual mediation used in Northern Ireland and invite the EU to serve as a full and equal partner setting out the terms for negotiations in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, choosing a neutral mediator and monitoring the process. Russia doesn’t have close enough ties with the U.S. to serve as an effective partner. Northern Ireland worked because Dublin and London had good bilateral ties during the 1990s and 2000s. The EU would work as a good partner as long as the French were kept from grandstanding.

Colin Nelson
December 17, 2010 at 01:00

Once again the pitiful European nations are anxious to sacrifice Jews and Israel to calm their fears that the Islamic extremists will get really upset if the Israel/Palestinian conflict continues.

Intellectually and morally bankrupt, the EU has bought into the popular narrative propagated and taught daily by the Persian, Muslim and Arab hardliners, that resolution of the Mid-East conflict is the crux of the entire set of issues pertaining to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, the PA, Fatah, and all Islamist attacks against Israel.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

The cowering EU has given this terrorist extremist group exactly the answer it wanted and expected would come from its well executed strategies and tactics to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

Steve Rodriguez
December 16, 2010 at 23:34

An enfeebled US? Russia challenges US position? What a joke.

While Israel faces existential threats all around, they have done so from their creation. How many wars fought, and won? Not a single actor can take action in this region without US permission. The US is not enfeebled, Barack Obama is enfeebled.

The writer is a British national and therefore should be much more well versed on the quicksand nature of Middle Eastern politics. Centuries of British colonialism, more than an enfeebled America, is what has given us national and geographical divisions that only make sense on a British colonel’s map. The players in this region – Israel and the Arabs, and Iran as well – THEY are the parties responsible for their fate, NOT the US.

The US can only attempt to support the parties towards a peace, it cannot be imposed. And when Russia became too involved by actively supporting multiple Arab armies, while the US played a non-existent role in 1973, well – we saw the results once the US engaged.

I understand the writer may have a nostalgic wish for a return to “The Great Game,” and I realize that, having been saved by the US twice in the last century and enfeebled against the Russian Bear Europeans may feel naked and exposed, so you have to kiss-up to the Russian Bear….

but the notion that any outcome in the Middle east will not be driven by Israeli or US interests is laughable.

Great powers wax and wane througout history. Yet the British are still at the table, the Russians are at the table. The notion the US will not be influential or play the decisive role when our power has yet to decline is a joke. Obama is the problem, he is not feared or respected on the international stage.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief