DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 9, 2016, 8:05 AM (IDT)
The fledgling “initiatives” reverberating this week in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Jerusalem and the G20 summit were nothing but distractions from the quiet deals struck by two lead players, Russia and Turkey to seize control of the region’s affairs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew nothing would come of his offer on the G20 sidelines to US President Barack Obama to team up for a joint operation to evict ISIS from Raqqa. And, although Moscow was keen on hosting the first handshake in almost a decade between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), neither were known to be ready for the last step toward a meeting.
But the game-changing events to watch out for took place in Hangzhou without fanfare – namely, the Obama-Putin talks and the far more fruitful encounter between Putin and Erdogan.
According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Mid East sources, Putin virtually shut the door on further cooperation with the United States in Syria. He highhandedly informed Obama that he now holds all the high cards for controlling the Syrian conflict, whereas Washington was just about out of the game.
Putin picked up the last cards, our sources disclose, in a secret deal with Erdogan for Russian-Turkish collaboration in charting the next steps in the Middle East.
The G20 therefore, instead of promoting new US-Russian understanding, gave the impetus to a new Russian-Turkish partnership.
Erdogan raked in instant winnings: Before he left China, he had pocketed Putin’s nod to grab a nice, 4,000-sq.km slice of northern Syria, as a “security zone” under the control of the Turkish army and air force, with Russian non-interference guaranteed.
This Turkish zone would include the Syrian towns of Jarablus, Manjib, Azaz and Al-Bab.
Ankara would reciprocate by withdrawing its support from the pro-US and pro-Saudi rebel groups fighting the Assad army and its allies in the area north of Aleppo.
Turkey’s concession gave Putin a selling-point to buy the Syrian ruler assent to Erdogan’s project. Ankara’s selling-point to the West was that the planned security zone would provide a safe haven for Syrian refugees and draw off some of the outflow perturbing Europe.
It now turns out that, just as the Americans sold the Syrian Kurds down the river to Turkey (when Vice President Joe Biden last month ordered them to withdraw from their lands to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River or lose US support), so too are the Turks now dropping the Syrian rebels they supported in the mud by re-branding them as “terrorists.”
The head of this NATO nation has moreover gone behind America’s back for a deal with the Russian ruler on how to proceed with the next steps of the Syrian conflict.
Therefore, when US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva Thursday and Friday, Sept. 8-9, for their sixth and seventh abortive sit-downs on the Syrian issue, there was not much left for them to discuss, aside from continuing to coordinate their air traffic over Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.
Washington and Moscow are alike fearful of an accidental collision in the sky in the current inflammable state of relations between the two powers.
As a gesture of warning, a Russian SU-25 fighter jet Tuesday, Sept 6, intercepted a US Navy P8 plane flying on an international route over the Black Sea. When the Russian jet came as close as 12 feet, the US pilots sent out emergency signals – in vain, because the Russian plane’s transponder was switched off. The American plane ended up changing course.
Amid these anomalies, Moscow pressed ahead with preparations to set up a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.
Putin is keen to succeed where the Obama administration failed. John Kerry abandoned his last effort at peacemaking as a flop two years ago. But it is hard to see Netanyahu or Abu Mazen rushing to play along with the Russian leader’s plan to demean the US president in the last months of his tenure – especially when no one can tell who will win the November 8 presidential election – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or what policies either will pursue.
All the region’s actors will no doubt be watching closely to see how Turkey’s “Russian track” plays out and how long the inveterate opportunists can hang together.
A generous military aid package — with unacceptable strings attached.
This week, MK Michael Oren stood up to his boss in the Kulanu party, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, to the political Left, including hundreds of retired security brass, and to the IDF General Staff. The former ambassador to Washington urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to sign the multi-year security assistance deal that US President Barack Obama demands Israel accept.
The problem isn’t the money. By all accounts, Obama’s multi-year military assistance package is generous.
The problem is that in exchange for the expanded military aid, Obama is demanding that Israel surrender its diplomatic and military independence to the White House.
For more than 40 years, every US administration – including the Obama administration – that has sought to harm Israel in any way has hit up against an unmovable obstacle. Whether the White House wanted to enable the UN Security Council to pass an anti-Israel resolution, place an embargo on military exports or bureaucratically slow them down to force Israel to stand down during wartime; whether the White House wanted block expanded trade deals, crowd out Israel’s military industries, or sell game changing weapons systems to Israel’s enemies, the US Congress has always stopped it in its tracks.
Israel-haters in the US speak endlessly about the supposedly all powerful and malign “Israel lobby,” which controls US foreign affairs. But the simple truth is that it wouldn’t matter all that much if AIPAC were to shut down tomorrow. Even without AIPAC, Israel would enjoy the support of Congress.
It would continue to enjoy that support because the vast majority of Americans support Israel and expect their representatives in Congress to support Israel.
In other words, the “Israel lobby” is none other than the American people.
As Oren warned, Obama’s military assistance package would disenfranchise the American public when it comes to US policy toward Israel. The agreement bars Israel from asking that Congress augment the assistance that Obama has offered and bars Congress from acting. So if a future administration chooses to breach the agreement, or to suspend it, or if conditions change and Israel requires other assistance, Congress would be barred from stepping into the breach.
Then there is the assistance agreement’s assault on Israel’s military independence.
Israel’s military industries are the primary guarantor of its independent capacity to fight and win wars.
Successive administrations have sought to restrict the activities of Israel’s military industries and have used the military assistance to achieve their goal.
Israeli critics of US assistance note that Israel’s military industries are the primary casualties of the aid.
Currently, the US allows Israel to use a mere 25 percent of its assistance at home. As a consequence, the main beneficiary of US military assistance to Israel are US defense contractors.
Critics of the US aid argue that if Israel stops receiving military assistance, far from harming the economy, the move would strengthen Israeli industry and expand economic growth. The thousands of jobs at US defense contractors that are created through US military assistance to Israel, will move to Israel, and go to Israelis.
Moreover, whereas Israel gives the US its technology for free as part of the security assistance package, if it stops accepting the assistance, it will be free to sell its technology to other partners such as India, which will eagerly partner with Israel in weapons development and production projects.
Strategically, canceling the US military aid package would massively expand Israel’s military independence of action.
On the other hand, the deal that Obama is now trying to coerce Netanyahu to sign will require Jerusalem to give up the 25 percent of the military assistance it is now allowed to spend at home. Oren noted that such a concession will cost thousands of Israelis their jobs.
But even worse, an Israeli agreement to spend all future US military assistance in the US would be tantamount to an Israeli agreement to concede its military independence to the White House for a fistful of dollars. Without the independent capacity to develop and produce defense systems, spare parts and munitions, Israel will be unable to take military action without White House approval.
Obama’s own record makes clear what Israel would be risking.
Two years ago during Operation Protective Edge, Obama initiated an unofficial embargo on missile transfers to Israel. In an act of economic warfare, Obama also temporarily banned US commercial flights from traveling to Ben-Gurion Airport and so threatened the economy. Obama undertook these steps as a means to coerce Israel into accepting Hamas’s cease-fire terms.
Aside from Obama’s terms themselves, the most distressing aspect of the current fight over Obama’s defense deal is that the IDF senior brass – in active duty and reserves – supports Obama.
This support goes hand in hand with a series of actions taken by current and former senior security officials in recent months and weeks. Taken together, they strengthen the unpleasant and distressing conclusion that the Obama administration has unreasonably close ties to Israel’s security establishment and is using them to undermine the elected government.
Since last month, retired IDF general officers have produced two major position papers dealing with various aspects of a future Israeli withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Their most notable common feature is that they both reflect the Obama administration’s policies on the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
The first paper, “Security First,” was produced by a group called Commanders for Israel’s Security. With the signatures of more than 200 retired generals, and recently endorsed by former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, the CIS paper calls for Israel to announce that it is ending its claims to sovereign rights over Judea and Samaria. It also calls for Israel to take a number of unilateral steps in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem in order to show the Palestinians that it is serious about surrendering the areas in the framework of a peace deal with the PLO.
Among other things, the generals call for Israel to administratively divide Jerusalem. The Arab neighborhoods should be administered by an Arabs-only municipal authority that will operate within Jerusalem’s city hall but be autonomous in its decisions.
The generals also call for a complete cessation of all building activities in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria outside the separation barrier. Residents of these communities, they recommend, should be pressured to abandon their homes in exchange for government money.
The second paper was prepared by the Washington- based Center for a New American Security. CNAS is led by former senior Obama administration officials.
“A Security System for the Two-State Solution” was authored by leading members of US Gen. John Allen’s team of advisers. In 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry hired Allen to prepare a security plan that would convince the Israeli government and public to surrender the Jordan Valley in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians. The public, and the government rejected his recommendations.
Among the paper’s co-authors are Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, the former IDF attaché to Washington, and Nimord Novik, Shimon Peres’s former chief of staff. Novik also played a central role in writing the “Security First” paper.
In 2013-2014, Shamni raised a lot of Israeli eyebrows when it was reported Allen had hired him to serve on his team. Shamni’s closest point man in his work for Allen was Kerry’s lead negotiator Martin Indyk. Indyk viewed Shamni’s presence on the team as a means to subvert public opinion. Indyk sought to recruit other retired IDF generals to work with Shamni to lobby Israelis to support Allen’s plan, which required Israel to surrender its control over the border with Jordan.
The CNAS report essentially parrots Allen’s plan.
Like Allen’s plan, the CNAS plan claims to provide security arrangements that will provide for Israel’s defense even after it withdraws from the Jordan Valley, and the rest of Judea and Samaria.
To this end, the report purports to “Build a multilayered system that addresses Israel’s security concerns and in which Israel retains the right of self-defense as well as the capacity to defend itself by itself, but ensures that this is only necessary in extremis.”
And who determines whether Israel has reached such an extreme situation? The Americans will. The basic premise of the CNAS paper is that the US military will replace the IDF as the guarantor of Israel’s survival.
US forces will patrol the Jordan Valley along with Palestinian forces, which they will train.
More important, the Americans will stand at the helm of a security committee composed of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. The Americans will dictate the tempo of Israeli withdrawals from Judea and Samaria, including from the international border with Jordan. If Israel believes that the Palestinians are not able or willing to maintain security in the areas that Israel is to vacate, and the Americans disagree, Israel will be forced to withdraw despite its objections.
If it fails to do so, or if it acts militarily against US objections, it will lose US diplomatic backing.
Shamni’s paper, like Obama’s defense assistance deal, is based on one strategic assumption: That Israel can trust the administration – any administration that ever will be – so much that its best bet is to give up its diplomatic and strategic independence in exchange for American weapons and Obama’s promises. Moreover, it can commit its survival to the proposition that the US is strategically infallible.
On that point, it is worth noting that this week, terrorists whose affiliation was not reported detonated a car bomb along Jordan’s border with Iraq and Syria.
Six people were killed.
The affected area has been the site of several recent attacks by Iranian-allied forces. As J.E. Dyer has noted, Iran seeks to use its control over the Iraqi army’s campaign against ISIS in Falluja as a stepping stone in its westward expansion into Jordan.
In response to the attack, the Jordanian military declared the northern and eastern border areas closed military zones.
In the CNAS report, the threat posed to Israel from the east through Jordan is casually dismissed. While the authors allow that such a threat exists in theory, they insist that an attack from the east is “much less likely since the fall of Saddam Hussein.”
Revealing the unity of purpose between the CIS and CNAS, both were presented in New York earlier this month at an event sponsored by the far-left Israel Policy Forum. The forum is considered a major player today due to its intimate ties to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Shamni and his colleagues admitted, “Persuading Israelis to entrust part of their security to the United States will be one of the most challenging hurdles to an agreement.”
Let us hope that it remains an insurmountable obstacle.
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