Among the nations condemning Israel’s war in Gaza, one has stood out — Russia. Moscow has expressed deep concern over the escalation of the conflict and warned of the danger that the fighting could spread if other parties get involved. Russia has also hosted a delegation from Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and launched a brutal attack on Israel on October 7, killing more than 19,000 civilians.
These moves have surprised and angered many in Israel, who had seen Russia as a growing friend and partner in the turbulent Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had cultivated a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, praising his intellect and thanking him for his policies in support of Jews. Israel had also coordinated with Russia on military operations in Syria, where both countries have interests and influence.
But the Gaza war has exposed the fragility and complexity of the Russian-Israeli ties, which are now at their lowest point in years. Analysts say that the war has aggravated the existing geopolitical tensions and underscored the growing gulf between Russia and the West, especially the US, which has shown strong support for Israel’s right to self-defense.
“Russia and Israel have a complicated relationship that is based on pragmatism, not ideology,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute focusing on Russia’s policy toward the Middle East. “They have some common interests, such as counterterrorism and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but they also have many divergent interests, such as Syria, Turkey, and the Palestinian issue.”
Borshchevskaya said that Russia’s stance on the Gaza war reflects its desire to increase its regional clout and to challenge the US-led order. “Russia wants to be seen as a mediator and a power broker in the Middle East, and to present itself as a more balanced and reliable partner than the US,” she said. “Russia also wants to exploit the perceived weakness and inconsistency of the US policy in the region, and to undermine the US-Israeli alliance.”
Ian Lesser, executive director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund and an expert on European and Middle Eastern security affairs, said that Russia’s approach to the Gaza war also reflects its domestic and international challenges. “Russia is facing a lot of pressure from the West over its war in Ukraine, its cyberattacks, its human rights violations, and its interference in other countries’ affairs,” he said. “Russia is also facing a lot of pressure from its own population, which is dissatisfied with the economic and social situation, and from its Muslim minority, which is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.”
Lesser said that Russia’s support for Hamas and criticism of Israel are partly aimed at diverting attention from its own problems and appeasing its domestic and regional audiences. “Russia is playing a double game,” he said. “On the one hand, it wants to maintain some level of cooperation with Israel, especially on security and intelligence matters. On the other hand, it wants to show solidarity with the Arab and Muslim world, and to gain leverage over Israel and the US.”
Lesser added that Russia’s involvement in the Gaza war could also have unintended consequences and risks. “Russia may think that it can control and influence Hamas, but Hamas is not a monolithic or rational actor,” he said. “Hamas may have its own agenda and calculations, and may not follow Russia’s advice or interests. Russia may also find itself in a confrontation with other regional players, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, who have their own stakes and roles in the conflict.”
The prospects for a restoration of the Russian-Israeli friendship seem bleak, as the Gaza war continues to rage and the diplomatic efforts to end it remain stalled. Both sides have accused each other of hypocrisy and double standards, and have exchanged harsh words and warnings. The trust and goodwill that had been built over the years have been eroded by the violence and the rhetoric.
“Russia and Israel have a history of ups and downs in their relations, and they may be able to overcome this crisis in the future,” said Borshchevskaya. “But it will not be easy or quick. It will require a lot of dialogue and compromise, and a recognition of the realities and limitations of each other’s positions and interests.”
Lesser agreed that the Russian-Israeli relations are not doomed, but said that they will need a major reset and reassessment. “The Gaza war has shown that the Russian-Israeli friendship was not as strong or stable as it seemed,” he said. “It was based on a fragile balance of interests and personalities, which has been shattered by the shifting sands of Middle East geopolitics. It will take a lot of time and effort to rebuild it, if it is possible at all.”