By Saeid Jafari for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Iran’s relationship with Russia has always been characterized by a mix of hope and dread. While one faction in Tehran wants to expand ties, another faction has been traditionally concerned about Moscow’s trustworthiness.
The Syrian crisis has, however, brought the two countries closer together given their shared support for President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite the current collaboration, there is constant concern that Russia might turn its back on Iran for a better deal, or that Moscow might maneuver in Syria in a manner that will not safeguard Iran’s interests in the region.
The latest boost to this anxiety came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent attempts to attract Russia’s attention. Netanyahu’s March 9 visit to Moscow was conducted with the hope of getting President Vladimir Putin’s approval for Netanyahu’s vision of the future order in Syria, which directly impacts the Iranian-Israeli dynamic.
At his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu charged that Iran is spreading “Shiite Islamic terrorism” and urged Moscow to not let Tehran use the Syrian crisis to further its goals against Israel. For his part, the Russian president urged the Israeli prime minister to avoid finding roots to current tension with Iran in “the fifth century B.C.” and to instead focus on current realities.
Naturally, Netanyahu’s visit was carefully watched by Tehran, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responding to the charges of the supposed historical enmity of Persians toward Jews on Twitter on March 12.
On March 17, 10 days before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Russia, Israel attacked targets in Syria. The next day, Moscow summoned the Israeli ambassador over the airstrikes, without publicizing details of the meeting. As such, when Rouhani departed for his first state visit to Russia, it was clear that a large part of his discussions would center on Syria.