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Russia’s Strategic Choices in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Image credit: The Moscow Times
Russia's Strategic Choices in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

The stance of the international community over Israel’s assault on Palestinian civilians in Gaza is shaping new dynamics in international politics. It has not only generated a divide but also opened up many debates. One of them is the strategic approach of the states in picking a side in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Take an example of the Russia-Ukraine war, with the whole world siding against and condemning Russia, calling for an end to the war. Israel, however, shared good ties with Russia due to the sound relationship between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Tel Aviv minimised its role in the Russian war and refrained from either arming Ukraine or joining sanctions against it. However, Israel could not gather any support from Russia in its current confrontation with Hamas as Moscow refused to condemn the attack, and its foreign minister called Israel’s actions “counter to International law”. Therefore, the question stands relevant: what are the objectives of the Russian decision to show no support for Israel?

Russia’s staunch support for the Palestinians reflects its historic two-state solution policy. In a statement after the Hamas leaders visited Moscow earlier in March this year, the Foreign Ministry maintained an “unchanged position in support of a just solution to the Palestinian problem.” After October 7, Israel could not gather much support from Russia. Immediately after the Hamas’s attack, Moscow avoided its condemnation in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and instead held the United States (US) responsible for Hamas’ actions in Israel. Similarly, President Putin also hosted the Hamas leadership in Moscow, apparently for the release of Russian-origin Jewish hostages, but the move irked Tel Aviv. They summoned the Russian Ambassador to Israel to launch a protest.

Russian approach in the Israel-Hamas conflict is forged by its strategic objectives, including the maintenance of its standing among the Arab world and the countries of the Global South.

Russia is also adhering to support Palestine for strategic purposes. It has larger global interests to refrain from supporting Israel’s actions against innocent civilians. Moscow is on the brink with Ukraine’s push for a special tribunal under the Charter of the United Nations (UN). However, despite rigorous efforts by President Zelenskyy, it seems impossible unless the countries of the Global South support the resolution in the General Assembly, providing a two-thirds majority. Therefore, the Russian stance against the Israeli occupation may retain its standing in the Global South, eventually reducing the looming diplomatic threat over it. As John Psaropoulos, an Aljazeera correspondent, writes in his opinion piece, “the Global South’s more ambivalent view of Russia’s actions has further ramifications for Ukraine.”

In addition to this, Moscow is also enjoying good relations with Iran and its ideological partner, Syria. Tehran has supplied drones to Moscow in its war against Ukraine. Moreover, Hamas is also strongly backed up by Iran. In an interview with the author, Taimur Fahad Khan, a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), mentioned, “Hamas is an Iranian asset, and Russia cannot harm an asset of an ally”. Therefore, Russia prioritises maintaining its relations with Iran and its presence in the Global South. Taking any action that could damage these would harm its global stature and popularity in these countries.

Thus, the Russian position to support Palestinians may improve its stature in Arab countries as they are trying to “align themselves with the Arab mainstream,” noted Mark Katz, a professor at George Mason University. Therefore, this will not only help Moscow in gathering more support in its war but also maintain its position in the Middle East.

While Russia’s approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict may appear inconsistent with its usual foreign policy principles, closer examination reveals it as a calculated strategic choice rather than a fundamental shift. This deviation from its longstanding understanding with Israel could be interpreted as a sign of strained relations in the future but ultimately stems from Russia’s strategic alignment in the region. Hamidreza Azizi, an expert in Iran-Russia relations at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said, “I think Russia has made a strategic choice already on whom to side with within the Middle East, and it’s not Israel.”

Moreover, Russia’s strategic choices have also created an impact on its ongoing war with Ukraine. Before the Hamas-Israel conflict came to the forefront, the world had a different and prominent view of the Russia-Ukraine war. However, this slightly changed with the current developments in Palestine taking some of the attention previously on Ukraine. The only party that is the beneficiary of this emerging situation is Russia. The distraction from Ukraine may allow Russia to buy time and a certain absence from the media. As Hanna Notte, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, states, “The distraction value from the war in Ukraine is relevant in terms of media attention.” Therefore, Moscow will likely not mind staying out of the spotlight.

Besides, since the day Russia invaded Ukraine, various countries have condemned it, and the rhetoric against it was all over. The Western support for Israel’s illegal actions against innocent civilians may also reduce the rhetoric support Ukraine enjoys on its war. A Chatham House Editorial considered the moral support for Ukrainians “shrouded in fog”. Therefore, Western support for Israel and its double standards, which likely halted the restoration of peace, may reduce the opposition Russia is facing.

Lastly, the prolonged Israel-Hamas Conflict can also derail the consistent support from the US and the West. The Biden administration has been under severe pressure from its Republican members of the House, who are calling for an end to the support for Ukraine. According to the data provided by the Pew Research Center, around 48% of Republican members believe that the US is providing too much support to Ukraine. Despite that, Washington remains committed and likely able to support two wars simultaneously; its pessimism and fear of decline will not allow it to do that driven by anxieties about its global power.

Overall, the Israel-Hamas conflict has broadened the discussions on the strategic choices of the states in picking a side. Russian approach in the Israel-Hamas conflict is forged by its strategic objectives, including the maintenance of its standing among the Arab world and the countries of the Global South. Moreover, Russia’s choice may also have an impact on its prolonged war with Ukraine, including minimised rhetoric support for the latter from the West and, to some extent, a distraction from the event in the media. Likewise, it is unlikely for the US and the West to continue supporting both wars simultaneously due to the mounting pressure at home and emerging new challenges.

Usman Zulfiqar Ali

Usman Zulfiqar Ali is a Communications and Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR). His research focuses mainly on China’s geopolitical and international affairs. He tweets @UsmanZulfiqar and can be reached at

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