Russia has never completely abandoned our region, but for 40 years, thanks to Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger and the Israeli victory in the Yom Kippur War, Moscow lost most of its previous centers of influence in the Middle East, aside from Syria. Now Russia is back, in a big way.
It is still early to cap the developments of recent weeks surrounding Syria's chemical weapons program, but one thing is already clear: Without minimizing the importance of the agreement to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons arsenal or the American contribution to the deal, one gets the impression that the Kremlin was at the wheel. Perceptions, primarily in the Middle East, are sometimes more important than facts, and America in our region today looks like it is following; compared to Russia, which was able to dictate -- and it does not matter that objectively the U.S. is much more powerful than Russia (and if Washington doesn't wake up soon and realize who it prefers over whom in Egypt, it is liable to lose ground there as well).
President Barack Obama said in his speech that America no longer wants to be the "world's policeman." Vacuums, however, are destined to be filled, and Russia, perhaps with China, will fill them.
Israel is content with the fact that an agreement on Syria was reached, as long as the regime in Damascus meets its conditions and stipulations. The Netanyahu government's consistent position has been that Israel has no role in the Syrian civil war, but any possible scenario does include neutralizing Assad's chemical weapons and ensuring that they are not transferred to Hezbollah. Even Assad's temporarily enhanced status does not need to bother us too much. On the other hand, Israel cannot ignore the potential consequences that Russia's increased diplomatic standing will have pertaining to crucial diplomatic matters on Israel's agenda: Iran and the Palestinian problem.
As for Iran, there is a debate in America about whether the Syrian outcome will make Tehran feel more exposed to international pressures, enough so that it will stop its race toward a nuclear weapon; or whether it will see Western weakness, including American "flexibility" about its "red lines" and Russia's active diplomatic engagement -- a type of "building permit" for the continuation of its nuclear program. It can be assumed that this issue was the focus of Netanyahu's meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem earlier this week.
In regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Vladimir Putin's Russia has not, yet, brought up its own diplomatic initiatives and at this stage it is settling for repeating the European Union's mantras and slogans. In the Soviet past, the situation was different, not only because Stalin and most of his successors saw Zionism as an active and ideological enemy, but also because the Kremlin saw, during the cold war, Israel and its Arab client states marionettes to be controlled by both sides of the globe.
The result of this was that Russia and its satellite states consistently supported the Arab side, supplied weapons to the Egyptian and Syrian armies, trained Palestinian terrorists and cultivated potential terrorists at Lumumba University in Moscow (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also studied there). America, in contrast, generally supported Israel and was critical in deciding the outcome of the Yom Kippur War when Kissinger, backed by Nixon, threatened the Russians against intervening on behalf of the beaten Syrians and Egyptians.
Today, the situation is different. There are differences of opinion on several issues, in particular over Moscow's turning a blind eye, at least on the surface, to the dangers posed by Iran's nuclear program, but there are also quite a few agreements, either declared or veiled. Israel is certainly not indifferent, for example, to one of the major trends in Russian diplomacy, which is to stymie the expansion of Islam in the world, particularly in its close vicinity. In other areas as well, relations between Moscow and Jerusalem are doing exceedingly well and serve both parties.
However, Russia also understands that even with all the positive changes in relations, Israel will stay, also into the future, unequivocally tied to America and the American people (and to the Jewish community there). With that, Israel is aware of the possibilities offered by Russia's enhanced status in the Middle East, especially if Russia wants to exploit the relative advantage it has gained from the Syrian situation, which could give it increased prominence on the Palestinian issue. Israeli diplomacy can be expected to be very active on this front in the years to come.