The dying Assad regime was the last vestige of Soviet hegemony in the Middle East. At its peak, some form of Soviet inspired socialism governed Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Algeria and the Yemen: the Arab world's most populated states.
Socialist dominance in the Arab world was neatly mirrored by its popularity in Israel, where a Labor party managed corporate state followed something akin to the Swedish model and the Kibbutz remains to this day, one of the most successful forms of socialist commune in the movement's history.
It has recently been claimed that the Soviets deliberately fostered conflict in the Middle East
(see The Cold War’s Arab Spring in the Tablet) as a means of maintaining their popularity, and it may well be that they overplayed their hand because the 1973 war between socialist Israel, Egypt and Syria directly led to its demise in both Israel and Egypt.
The Assad regime survived, bolstered by its control of Lebanon and a terrifying secret police, even after the Russians abandoned socialism. The Russians maintained loyalty to Syria , even as they changed. Syria was their single most important client state in the Middle East, and remained the sole provider of a Russian controlled Mediterranean port.
This week Putin came to Israel, to open a memorial to the Red Army dead in World War II. Putin is the first Russian or Soviet President to visit Israel (Gorbachev came after retiring) and his visit is a powerful statement that Assad's time has finally come.
The late Bernard Lewis argued that religion is the Middle East's primary form of identity, and this now seems more relevant then ever. Religio-nationalist regimes are springing up like mushrooms, with Israel once again providing a kind of mirror to both the Arabs and the Russians. Religious Judaism increasingly threatens to dominate Israel, while the Arab world is now adopting the Khomeini model of religio-nationalism and theocratic democracy.
When Avigdor Lieberman became Israeli foreign minister, his ambition was to bring Israel closer to Russia. About a quarter of Israelis are Russian speakers and the 15% or so who voted for Lieberman's party all admire Russian culture and prefer its limited democracy model to what they see as Western Anarchism.
I have no doubt that Putin's visit was inspired from Israel, but its timing is significant, and it can be argued that Russian Jews have never exercised as much influence as they do now. There are a handful - maybe more- of "Oligarchs" with close ties to Israel and some of the most important Russian actors and writers live in Israel. This year a Russian-Israeli played for the World Chess Championship in Moscow.
Although Putin's Russia has often been hostile to the West, it has not come from an intrinsic clash of ideologies, but from a sense of historic threat and in that sense, the rapid decline of Western Europe and the USA may have served to free Russia from its fears. Now, as the end of Assad is in plain sight, the Russians - who have no need for oil - can look around for new clients and although Russia is the Jewish people's historic enemy, the Nazis also made us historic friends.
Those in the West who call for Israel to be boycotted, assume that Israel has no alternative but to kowtow to Western values, but the truth is that Israel has alternatives - and they may be far worse for the Palestinians. Zionism was born at the Dreyfus trial, when a central European journalist realized that the values of the French revolution - the emancipator of Europe's Jews - could not prevent Jews from being a fishbone in the throat of the European sense of identity and that secular Judaism was limited in its ability to bring emancipation.
Zionism has generally remained faithful to the ideals of the French (and American) Revolutions, but it has always been dominated by the East European Jews for whom it was created, and their value system remains at the heart of Israeli society.
As capitalism falters in the West, so the appeal of partial democracy grows. That is the new Ruissia and this type of regime is spreading. It provides a way for unstable states to maintain a semblance of democracy without threatening the foundations of their society. Its advantage as a model is that it can become more democratic. Its disadvantage is that it can metamorphose into Fascism.
For many Israelis who are threatened by the culture of human rights and sexual liberation it provides a more attractive model then Western Liberalism. However before you write us off, remember that more than half the world's Jews live in the liberal democracies (mainly the USA but also France, the UK, Australia and Canada) and that Israelis are increasingly, more a part of the Anglo-Saxon world than of the Russian and that, as long as Israel remains loyal to the USA, its usefulness to the Russians is limited.
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