Iran’s Attack on Israel Could Be Bad for Russia’s War in Ukraine

Iran’s Attack on Israel Could Be Bad for Russia’s War in Ukraine


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holding a meeting in Tehran, Iran, in July 2022.
Sergei Savostyanov/AFP/Getty Images

  • Iran’s attack on Israel could impact Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • Iran is a key arms supplier and economic partner to Russia.
  • A broader Middle East conflict could also boost China’s regional influence at Russia’s expense.

Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday is bad not only for the Middle East but also for Russia’s war in Ukraine as new fault lines emerge between Moscow and Tehran.

Michelle Grisé, a senior policy researcher at RAND, an American think tank, described in a commentary how a broader conflict in the Middle East could impact Russia. The commentary was first published in The National Interest magazine on Thursday — days before Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday.

Grisé’s piece followed a strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Syria, on April 1. Israel didn’t claim responsibility for the strike, but Iran held it accountable and vowed retaliation.

“Although it has been argued that Moscow benefits from chaos in the Middle East — diverting Western attention and resources from Ukraine — it stands to lose a great deal if the Israel-Hamas conflict escalates into a wider war,” Grisé wrote.

Russia has been installing itself as a military and diplomatic player in the Middle East for years.

Grisé wrote that Moscow had capitalized on instability in Syria and Libya to establish itself as a regional security guarantor, but an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East wouldn’t have the same effect.

She wrote that this was in part because of Moscow’s preoccupation with its war in Ukraine. Russia’s partnership with Iran has also deepened in the past two years as Russia’s heavily sanctioned economy became increasingly isolated.

Iran is now a critical military supplier to Russia. An Iranian “ghost fleet” has also been carrying Russian oil around the world since the war in Ukraine started, keeping Moscow’s oil revenue flowing.

But should Iran become embroiled in a wider conflict, it wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of support to Russia.

“A broader regional conflict, particularly if it involves direct conflict between Israel and Iran, would limit Iran’s ability to continue serving as a military supplier to Russia,” wrote Grisé.

Furthermore, “Tehran may demand more support when Russia has limited capacity to provide it,” she added.

The G7 nations are already considering additional sanctions against Iran following its attack on Israel — which could spill over to Russia.

“We will reflect on additional sanctions against Iran in close cooperation with our partners, specifically on its drone and missile programs,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a statement on Sunday.

A broader Middle East conflict could boost China’s clout in the region at Moscow’s expense

Even though Russia is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has still managed to position himself as a potential power broker in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war.

But Putin’s plan could fall apart should the war spill over regionally, since Beijing is also jostling to play peacemaker.

“Russia would be especially sensitive to Chinese attempts to encroach on its influence in the Middle East,” Grisé wrote in her commentary.

This is especially so since Beijing managed to deliver results in March last year, brokering a détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as Grisé noted.

Since Russia’s heavily sanctioned economy is already reliant on China, it would be even more exposed to Beijing’s whims should Moscow not be able to hang onto any shred of global influence it still has.

In a statement on Sunday, Russia’s foreign ministry expressed “extreme concern” at what it called “yet another dangerous escalation” in the region.

Calling for restraint, Russia’s foreign ministry said it expected regional states “to resolve the existing problems through political and diplomatic means.”


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