The panorama of international relations is changing with dizzying speed and increasing complexity. Governments now compete with hundreds of non-state actors (NSAs) for resources, influence and the other elements of power projection. Statecraft and intelligence are being transformed by the cyber-revolution, and defense and security agencies are scrambling to keep up with rapid advances in technology, often falling far behind.
Within the government sector, two disastrous administrations in a row have transformed the United States from a colossus without economic, political or military rivalry into a blundering, clumsy giant, abandoning position after position in the world, cursed with a gigantic debt and unable to maintain the instruments of state power at a level sufficient to protect its vital interests worldwide. The situation in Europe is even worse, with the added challenge of a veritable invasion of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, south Asia and Africa.
As a result, other countries are stepping into the gap, sometimes even facilitated by the US and Europe, as in the case of Iran, which is now happily engaged in trying to become the hegemon of the Gulf and beyond to the Mediterranean. China is also flexing its military, political and economic muscles, establishing its dominance in east and Southeast Asia while engaged in a massive military buildup. But like Iran in its region, China’s imperial designs, at least up to the present, are regional in scope, aimed at replacing the US as hegemon in East and Southeast Asia.
China represents no threat to Israel. Aside from oil, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which has anything China wants–in this case advanced technology. It is actively pursuing that interest through trade, investment and education, and is thus an entirely benign element for Israel on the international scene.
Russia is another story. Russia’s ambitions (which may prove to exceed its capabilities) are global. A country of continental size, sprawling over much of the eastern hemisphere, Russia is threatening its immediate neighbors in the west and south, with cyber-attacks on Estonia, military adventures in Ukraine and Georgia, overflights and submarine maneuvers in the Baltic and North Seas, and now attaching listening devices to submarine cables throughout the Atlantic with specially-equipped submersibles. Advances into the Mediterranean through naval and air bases on the Syrian coast are coupled with air and ground actions against rebel groups in Syria in support of the Assad regime, in a pragmatic alliance with Iran in that endeavor. Contrast this with the trumpeted introduction of less than fifty military advisors by the US and the calling of an entirely useless, indeed, farcical conference on the Syrian situation.
Russian expansionism is much harder than Chinese for Israel to deal with. Russian ambitions and actions in the region hold both threat and promise for Israel. So far, the Israeli government has been handling the situation well, including a trip by Prime Minister Netanyahu to Moscow to arrange for constant communication between the two countries with reference particularly to air strikes. But the Iran-Russia-Hezbollah alliance in support of Assad holds obvious dangers for Israel on its northern and northeastern borders.
Russia has no incentive to antagonize Israel and may, indeed, serve as a restraining influence on Iran and Hezbollah. Possibilities of accidental clashes, however, are ever-present and might be encouraged by Israel’s enemies. Unlike China, Russia needs nothing from Israel, although it would like to be involved in the development of offshore natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean, and is trying to offset its Sh’ia slant with offers of military equipment sales to Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. It is a difficult balancing act, and it remains to be seen if Russia has the necessary skills and resources to continue to develop its expansionist global plans.
If Israel can juggle relations with Russia and the Sunni powers, while continuing to expand economic and financial relations with China, India and other countries of the Far East and South Asia, it may come out of the current quagmire unscathed and even with its security enhanced. Certainly, the final resolution of the natural gas nightmare is a very positive development, as it will greatly ease the ongoing dilemma of allocating resources to social needs versus defense and security requirements.