How Iran’s Attack on Israel Could Impact Russia’s War in Ukraine

HomeWARHow Iran's Attack on Israel Could Impact Russia's War in Ukraine

TEHRAN, Iran – In a shocking escalation of Middle East tensions, Iran launched a barrage of over 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday, raising grave concerns about the potential fallout on Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

The audacious Iranian attack, which triggered ferocious anti-missile defense operations across Israel, risks severely undermining Russia’s military campaign by straining its crucial alliance with Tehran at a pivotal juncture.

For months, analysts have warned that entanglements in regional conflicts could sap Russia’s focus and resources in Ukraine. Now, this nightmare scenario appears to be unfolding.

“Russia is caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Michelle Grisé, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “An all-out war between Iran and Israel would leave Moscow with an untenable choice – alienate a key partner supplying it weapons or get caught up in a quagmire distracting from its Ukraine invasion.”

At the heart of the predicament is Russia’s increasing reliance on Iran as an economic and military partner amid unprecedented Western sanctions. Iranian weapons like drones and missiles have played a major role in Putin’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities.

An Iranian “ghost fleet” has also helped export Russian oil around the world, providing a vital lifeline for the Kremlin’s energy revenues which fund its war machine.

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But Iran’s retaliatory strikes against Israel this weekend could abruptly disrupt these critical flows of weapons and oil money to Russia if the conflict escalates into a region-wide conflagration.

“A broader regional conflict would limit Iran’s ability to keep supplying Russia militarily,” said Grisé. “Tehran may also demand more support that Russia can ill afford to provide as its resources are stretched thin.”

The explosive tensions also risk a spillover of sanctions on Iran impacting Russia’s economy and military operations.

In the aftermath of the Iranian strikes, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned of potential new sanctions targeting Iran’s drone and missile programs – penalties that could indirectly hit Russian supply lines.

“We will reflect on additional sanctions against Iran in close cooperation with our partners,” she said, highlighting Western resolve to confront Tehran’s belligerence.

Beyond its need for Iranian military aid and energy workarounds, Russia also has wider strategic interests at stake in the Middle East that are now in jeopardy due to the spiraling crisis with Israel.

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In recent years, Vladimir Putin has carefully cultivated influence across the region by positioning Russia as a key security broker, mediator and arms supplier to various feuding nations.

The Kremlin leader likely aimed to translate this clout into geopolitical leverage against the West amid rising U.S.-Russia tensions even before the Ukraine invasion.

But Russia’s delicate Middle East diplomacy appears at risk of unraveling as the Iran-Israel conflict provides an opening for Putin’s prime rival in the region – China.

“Russia would be especially sensitive to Chinese attempts to encroach on its influence in the Middle East,” said Grisé, noting Beijing’s successful mediation of the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement last year.

With Russia increasingly beholden to China economically due to Western sanctions, the Kremlin can ill afford to cede strategic ground to an emboldened Beijing making inroads as a newly credible security player across the Middle East.

In recent days, the Biden administration has escalated its condemnation of Iran’s actions while reaffirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

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But Washington has few good options amid a crisis that could inadvertently undermine Western efforts to press Russia on Ukraine.

“The last thing the U.S. wants is for this conflict to spiral into a wider regional war pulling in Russia as well as empowering China and other rivals to flex their muscle,” said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Yet that highly destabilizing scenario is now a real danger.”

In Moscow, officials voiced “extreme concern” over the weekend’s “dangerous escalation” while calling for restraint and a political resolution to the crisis.

But beyond empty rhetoric, Putin appears hard-pressed to leverage his limited influence to cool tensions given his stake in supporting Iran.

As a dark cloud looms over the Middle East, the spillover effects on Russia’s Ukraine campaign could prove severe if events continue their ominous trajectory.

“Moscow is trapped in its own making between its proxies in Tehran and its imperialist ambitions in Europe,” said Grisé. “Something will have to give soon, and it won’t be pretty for Putin’s interests no matter what path he chooses.”

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a seasoned basketball journalist with a passion for the WNBA and NBA. His insightful writing combines commentary and stats, providing comprehensive coverage. Alee sheds light on the overlooked WNBA while championing its players. He also delivers in-depth NBA analysis, offering unique perspectives on trades, drafts, and league dynamics. With exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes access, Alee gives readers an unparalleled look into the lives of basketball's biggest stars.

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