On October 9, Moscow and Cairo announced that their navies are planning joint exercises in the Black Sea—a move clearly aimed at Turkey, which has a bitter enemy in Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and has increasingly run afoul of Vladimir Putin in Syria, the Caucasus, and Libya. Jerusalem’s interests lie with the pro-Israel Sisi against Turkey’s pro-Hamas Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the situation is hardly straightforward. Jonathan Spyer explains:
In Israel, the rivalries between regional powers are generally understood to offer a certain advantage to Jerusalem, in that the power diplomatically closer to Israel (in this case Egypt) is likely to feel the need to cleave more closely to its allies in the face of a shared threat. The establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum and its recent formalization as an international organization exemplify this process.
The efforts of Moscow to assert itself as a power in the eastern Mediterranean should sound a cautionary note, however. . . . Russia is strategically aligned in the Levant with Iran, Israel’s most implacable enemy. Russian weapons (via Iran and Syria) make up the bulk of the formidable arsenal assembled in the service of Iranian goals by Lebanese Hizballah. Russia is also a rival of Israel in the matter of gas exports to Europe. All this means that Russian efforts to leverage regional power rivalries to increase its own presence and influence are not a net positive for Jerusalem. From the Israeli point of view, while there is no enmity, the less Russia, the better.
The Russian entry into the picture, as elsewhere, is made possible by the absence of another major power. The EU can issue declarations, but it has no united force to deploy. The power that is absent in the eastern Mediterranean, and indeed whose absence makes possible both the Turkish aggression and the Russian attempt to “mediate,” is the United States.