Analysis: Does Russia have motive to meddle in Israeli elections?

What interest would Russia have in influencing Israel’s election? Are there others interested in undermining Israel’s democracy?

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Referring to Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, Israeli media recently warned of foreign powers possibly seeking to intervene in Israel’s upcoming election in April. While strongly denying it, Russia is once again presented as the main potential suspect.

What interest would Russia have in influencing Israel’s election? Are there other international players interested in undermining Israel’s democracy?

Since the heated 2016 U.S. elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House, Western liberals and media pundits are systematically pointing fingers at Moscow as a threat to Western democracies. It remains to be proven whether this claim is true.

However, in the case of the U.S., Russia at least had a clear interest in preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming President of the United States. Relations between Hillary Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin were strained – mildly speaking.

In addition, the Kremlin likely hoped that a Republican president in the White House would end – or at least soften – U.S. sanctions against Moscow for its controversial policies in Ukraine and Syria. However, U.S.-Russian relations have hardly improved under President Trump. In fact, some would argue that American-Russian ties have deteriorated even further in the post-Obama era.

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In the case of Israel, it is much harder to identify a clear Russian interest in influencing Israel’s elections. Unlike America, Israel is a tiny state with modest political leverage on global policies towards Russia. In addition, there is no mainstream Israeli party with an anti-Russian political platform.

While Russia is hardly Israel’s ally, it is no longer the ideological foe of the Jewish state, as its Soviet predecessor was. Unlike Western officials, who frequently meddle in Israeli politics, Russia is mainly interested in protecting its strategic military assets in neighboring Syria.

While Moscow and Jerusalem have their differences over Syria, both have an interest in maintaining pragmatic and efficient Russian-Israeli relations. Israel’s political opposition supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain strong ties with the Kremlin.

Unlike other Western democracies, Israel has refrained from criticizing Russia over Ukraine. There is therefore no clear incentive for Moscow to influence Israel’s elections in a certain direction.

It is ironic that warnings against foreign intervention in Western elections mainly come from the political Left. During the 2015 elections in Israel, for example, the foreign-funded V15 campaign unsuccessfully tried to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and replace him with a left-leaning Israeli government.

A U.S. Senate probe later revealed that the V15 political campaign had received U.S. funds. While officially denying it, the left-leaning V15 campaign was tacitly supported by the Obama administration, which had a clear interest in removing the right-leaning Netanyahu government in Jerusalem.

Several Western European governments have tried to influence Israeli politics through direct or indirect funding of far-leftist NGOs hostile towards the Jewish state. While many of Israel’s liberal Western critics frequently insist that they are concerned about Israel’s democracy, their actions on the ground are not merely hostile but actually seek to undermine Israel’s democracy.