Iranian president says Tehran will keep its forces in Syria for as long as Assad wants them there; Israel repeatedly vows not to let Iran entrench itself on the northern border By Agencies and TOI staff UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran would stay in Syria for as long as the […]
National Security Advisor John Bolton urges Russia to reconsider plan to transfer advanced missiles to Syria. David Rosenberg, 24/09/18 20:57 John Bolton Reuters The US National Security Advisor said Tehran should be held responsible for last week’s downing of a Russian military plane over Syria, and warned Monday that Russian plans to transfer advanced […]
The narrative provided to date by various Jordanian officials has also indicated the possibility of a spontaneous outbreak of tension between certain Jordanian and US military personnel over recent, heightened friction between the sides, with several Jordanians also hurt in the incident.
But assuming the incident was a terror attack, Carmon, who has also advised the Defense Ministry and participated in NATO workshops on terrorism, said the shooting still needed to be put into the greater picture of complex events impacting terror in Jordan, Israel and their neighbors.
He said that “US-Jordan cooperation is huge” and is a “key bridge to other states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel.”
Carmon explained that “the US has an interest in a stable regime, Jordan needs assistance, including military and economic and the backing of a superpower.”
For the US and Israel, Jordan is a firewall of stability against ISIS and other terror groups trying to spread their influence from Syria and Iraq.
He said ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran and other groups “are trying to get into Jordan and know it is important, but until now have had very limited success.”
There has been some ISIS success in infiltrating the Beduin community in Jordan, noted Carmon, but mostly Jordan has stopped them and has recently arrested some Hezbollah-Iran cells.
The big concerns are that the last year or two have caused internal divisions within Jordan where the Muslim Brotherhood and even the broader population is not ready to fight a war with ISIS.
These seeping divisions, along with the 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan with no horizon for an improved situation, is a combustible situation for ISIS and others to inspire “lone wolf” attackers, said Carmon.
He explained that the same threats that these terror groups pose to Jordan can also apply to Israel either by undermining Jordan as a bulwark of stability and a quiet border for Israel or by building more of a foundation for terrorists to sneak into Israel from Jordan.
However, the biggest threat that he said the attack highlighted is the escalating terror threat to Israel, Jordan and US advisers in the region after ISIS’s expected fall in Mosul and other locations.
While these expected victories go a long way toward reducing ISIS’s regional power, large numbers of ISIS’s foreign fighters are expected to retreat, survive and pose a lower-grade but potent terror danger in the area in other ways, he said.
Israel could find itself tracking an influx of terrorists in Turkey and Jordan, but also closer to home in the Sinai, where ISIS can try to recruit Israeli-Arabs or Beduins from close range.
One interesting phenomenon he pointed out which may help Jordan push back against infiltration and terror by ISIS is the government’s cooperation with other Jihadist groups, who it then co-opts to stand against ISIS.
Carmon gave Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a central Salafist figure in Jordan and a former mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Abu Qatada, who was involved with terror groups including in England until being extradited to Jordan.
Both Jihadist leaders received some favorable treatment from Jordanian law enforcement in return for making “strong statements against ISIS,” said Carmon. Their standing with the Jordanian government in turn can insulate it from criticism for fighting ISIS.
Overall, Carmon called the incident very embarrassing for Jordanian and US intelligence and counter-terror cooperation. He added that both sides hope the attack was carried out by a lone-wolf or the result of a misunderstanding, and want to resolve the matter quickly so as to stabilize cooperation.
In November 2015, a Jordanian army officer said to be inspired by ISIS killed two US private security contractors and a South African at a US-funded police training facility.
Many Jordanians oppose the government’s close counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and Israel, including working with the US on airstrikes against ISIS, while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in return.
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U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary, according to a senior intelligence official and top-secret documents reviewed by NBC News.
American officials have long said publicly that Russia, China and other nations have probed and left hidden malware on parts of U.S critical infrastructure, “preparing the battlefield,” in military parlance, for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights or turn off the internet across major cities.
It’s been widely assumed that the U.S. has done the same thing to its adversaries. The documents reviewed by NBC News — along with remarks by a senior U.S. intelligence official — confirm that, in the case of Russia.
U.S. officials continue to express concern that Russia will use its cyber capabilities to try to disrupt next week’s presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials do not expect Russia to attack critical infrastructure — which many believe would be an act of war — but they do anticipate so-called cyber mischief, including the possible release of fake documents and the proliferation of bogus social media accounts designed to spread misinformation.
On Friday the hacker known as “Guccifer 2.0” — which U.S. officials say is a front for Russian intelligence — tweeted a threat to monitor the U.S. elections “from inside the system.”
As NBC News reported Thursday, the U.S. government is marshaling resources to combat the threat in a way that is without precedent for a presidential election.
The cyber weapons would only be deployed in the unlikely event the U.S. was attacked in a significant way, officials say.
U.S. military officials often say in general terms that the U.S. possesses the world’s most advanced cyber capabilities, but they will not discuss details of highly classified cyber weapons.
James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that U.S. hacks into the computer infrastructure of adversary nations such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — something he says he presumes has gone on for years — is akin to the kind of military scouting that is as old as human conflict.
“This is just the cyber version of that,” he said.
In 2014, National Security Agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers told Congress that U.S. adversaries are performing electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they can be in a position to disrupt the industrial control systems that run everything from chemical facilities to water treatment plants.
“All of that leads me to believe it is only a matter of when, not if, we are going to see something dramatic,” he said at the time.
Rogers didn’t discuss the U.S.’s own penetration of adversary networks. But the hacking undertaken by the NSA, which regularly penetrates foreign networks to gather intelligence, is very similar to the hacking needed to plant precursors for cyber weapons, said Gary Brown, a retired colonel and former legal adviser to U.S. Cyber Command, the military’s digital war fighting arm.
“You’d gain access to a network, you’d establish your presence on the network and then you’re poised to do what you would like to do with the network,” he told NBC News. “Most of the time you might use that to collect information, but that same access could be used for more aggressive activities too.”
Brown and others have noted that the Obama administration has been extremely reluctant to take action in cyberspace, even in the face of what it says is a series of Russian hacks and leaks designed to manipulate the U.S. presidential election.
Administration officials did, however, deliver a back channel warning to Russian against any attempt to influence next week’s vote, officials told NBC News.
The senior U.S. intelligence official said that, if Russia initiated a significant cyber attack against critical infrastructure, the U.S. could take action to shut down some Russian systems — a sort of active defense.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis, who served as NATO commander of Europe, told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. is well equipped to respond to any cyber attack.
“I think there’s three things we should do if we see a significant cyber-attack,” he said. “The first obviously is defending against it. The second is reveal: We should be publicizing what has happened so that any of this kind of cyber trickery can be unmasked. And thirdly, we should respond. Our response should be proportional.”
The U.S. use of cyber attacks in the military context — or for covert action — is not without precedent.
During the 2003 Iraq invasion, U.S spies penetrated Iraqi networks and sent tailored messages to Iraqi generals, urging them to surrender, and temporarily cut electronic power in Baghdad.
In 2009 and 2010, the U.S., working with Israel, is believed to have helped deploy what became known as Stuxnet, a cyber weapon designed to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Today, U.S. Cyber Command is engaged in cyber operations against the Islamic State, including using social media to expose the location of militants and sending spoof orders to sow confusion, current and former officials tell NBC News.
One problem, officials say, is that the doctrine around cyber conflict — what is espionage, what is theft, what is war — is not well developed.
“Cyber war is undefined,” Brown said. “There are norms of behavior that we try to encourage, but people violate those.”
The White House has instructed the State Department to prepare an “options menu” detailing potential diplomatic steps that could be taken as part of an end-of-term Israeli-Palestinian peace push, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
In an editorial — titled “Obama’s Israel Surprise?” — the WSJ said a UN Security Council resolution that condemns Israeli settlement construction or formally recognizes a Palestinian state would be “a boon to the bullies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, while also subjecting Israeli citizens and supporters abroad to new and more aggressive forms of legal harassment…Does Mr. Obama want to be remembered as the President who criminalized Israeli citizenship?”
Moreover, asserted the editorial, a Security Council resolution setting parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be an even graver “blunder.”
“President Obama may be the last man on earth to get the memo, but after decades of fruitless efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it might be wiser for the U.S. to step back until the Palestinians recognize that peace cannot be imposed from the outside,” it concluded. “If Mr. Obama is still seeking a Middle East legacy at this late stage in his presidency, his best move is do nothing to make it worse.”
In Politico on Monday, State Department veterans Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky advised whomever the next president is not to “chase after Israeli-Palestinian peace without clear indications that the locals themselves and the Arabs, too, are prepared to act.”
“Washington should stay away from high-profile U.S.-initiated efforts to take on the big peace process issues,” they wrote. “The advice Bill Clinton gave to one of us before the July 2000 Camp David summit is inspirational but not always right: trying and failing isn’t better than not trying at all. Failure undermines U.S. prestige and power in war and peacemaking. It already has.”
“[T]he time for American-created transformational diplomacy in this region has long passed…If Americans want Hollywood endings, they should think about going to the movies,” Miller and Sokolsky concluded.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post said any Obama-led Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative launched during the lame-duck period between the presidential election on Nov. 8 and the inauguration of Obama’s successor on Jan. 20. would likely be viewed in the Middle East as “legacy-seeking grandstanding rather than as a contribution to peace.”
As reported extensively by The Algemeiner, concerns have been growing that Obama might not protect Israel at the UN as his time in office comes to an end. Last week, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said Hillary Clinton supporters must call on the Democratic presidential nominee to ensure Obama refrains from making any diplomatic moves against the Jewish state.
Earlier this month, Malcolm Hoenlein — executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — told The Algemeiner he had “some concerns about what Obama and others may do” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process before Jan. 20.
“This is based on things I heard from him a year ago about his priorities and the understandable importance of his legacy to him,” Hoenlein said. “And I listen to his speeches and I have seen some of the harsh statements that are being issued…about Israeli settlement policies. The language being used is much stronger than we’ve seen in the past and I’m afraid that this could be indicative of what a forthcoming UN Security Council resolution against settlements, or something that goes even further, might look like.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday a Western failure to rein in violent Islamists in Syria had indefinitely delayed the resumption of peace talks.
Shoigu said that rebels backed by Western governments had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks.
“As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” Shoigu said.
Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, and its military operation in Syria, now in its second year, has shored up Assad’s position. That has put Moscow on a collision course with Washington and its allies who want Assad removed from office.
Since Oct. 18, Russia and its Syrian allies say they have halted air attacks in Aleppo. Western governments had alleged that the strikes had been killing civilians in large numbers, an allegation Moscow denied.
But the pause in the air attacks on Aleppo is fragile: Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month its continuation depended on the behavior of moderate rebel groups in Aleppo and their Western backers.
Shoigu, who was addressing a meeting of Russian military officials, railed against those rebels and their backers, saying they had squandered a chance for peace talks.
“It is time for our Western colleagues to determine who they are fighting against: terrorists or Russia,” Shoigu said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
“Maybe they have forgotten at whose hands innocent people died in Belgium, in France, in Egypt and elsewhere?”
Listing attacks he said had been carried out by Western-backed rebels inside Aleppo, he said: “Is this an opposition with which we can achieve agreements?”
“In order to destroy terrorists in Syria it is necessary to act together, and not put a spanner in the works of partners. Because the rebels exploit that in their own interests.”
Shoigu said he was also surprised that some European governments had refused to allow Russian navy vessels bound for Syria to dock in their Mediterranean ports to refuel or take on supplies.
But he said those refusals had not affected the naval mission, or interfered with supplies reaching the Russian military operation in Syria.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
US: “This settlement’s location deep in the West Bank… would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,”
Israel intends to move ahead with plans to construct 98 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, despite harsh United States objections to the plan.
On Monday the state informed the High Court of Justice it awaited final bureaucratic approval to develop the site within six months as a relocation option for the 40 families from the Amona outpost.
It, therefore, asked the HCJ to delay by seven months the mandated December 25 demolition of the outpost.
Alternatively, the state said, it was also pursuing the option of using the abandoned property law, so that it could relocate the outpost to land adjacent to the community’s current location.
Washington has rebuked Israel for both plans, but the State Department issued a particularly sharp statement in which it said the Shiloh project was tantamount to the creation of a new settlement, something Israel had promised the US it would not do.
“This settlement’s location deep in the West Bank… would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,” the State Department had said.
But in its statement to the High Court of Justice, the state said that it wanted to avoid the kind of violent clashes that occurred in 2006 at the outpost between right-wing activists and security forces, during a court mandated demolition of nine homes.
It warned that a poorly executed evacuation “could have a security and political impact on the region,” particularly given “the sensitive reality” in which Israel finds itself.
“The state wants to prevent the harsh images and results, as well as the injuries, that accompanied the evacuation that occurred there a decade ago,” the prosecutors said, noting that there are 200 children living in the outpost.
The Campaign to Save Amona has stated that the families have no intention of leaving of their own volition, and have warned politicians, including Netanyahu, to watch out for their seats in the next election should their community be destroyed.
The Amona families have called on Netanyahu to retroactively legalize 2,000 unauthorized homes throughout Judea and Samaria built on private Palestinian property.
The bill offers to compensate the Palestinian landowners either financially or with alternative lots.
Most members of Netanyahu’s Likud and Bayit Yehudi factions have promised to support that bill.
But in a speech to mark the opening session of the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu hinted that he would not do so, when he told the plenum he intended to demolish the Amona outpost.
“I am certain that at the end of the day the [Amona] residents will evacuate responsibly,” he said. “We need to remember that we are a nation of laws.”
Netanyahu told the Knesset that there won’t be any other government that would help their enterprise more than his has done.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who spoke immediately after Netanyahu, reminded the parliamentarians that the High Court had issued it’s ruling in 2014, thereby giving the state two years to evacuate the outpost residents.
He added that the issue was whether a nation of laws would sanction land theft by authorizing 2,000 homes built without permission on private Palestinian property.
Politicians can’t argue about the need to comply with law and then try to skirt a court ruling, Herzog said. They can’t speak of the importance of the rule of law, and simultaneously support a bill to retroactively authorize such settler homes throughout the West Bank.
“You are talking about an arrangements bill for private property that would harm the principles of justice of a nation of laws,” Herzog said. “That is not an Arrangements bill, it’s a concealment bill without shame.”
In its document to the court, the state also spoke of the bill as well as the determination of the Amona families to remain where they are.
The prosecutors said they hoped those objections would fall away when it was understood that the entire community would be relocated to permanent homes together at the same new location.
The state said that it had begun seeking alternative sites in January 2015, and had weighed sites in the settlements of Ofra, Ma’aleh Mishmash, and Ma’aleh Amona before settling on the possibility of building a new neighborhood in the Shiloh settlement, next to one named Shvuet Rachel.
Amona was built in 1995 without permits from the government or the Defense Ministry on private Palestinian property. It received a NIS 2.1 million grant from the Ministry of Housing and Construction.
The state’s request to delay the outpost’s evacuation is the latest in a series of delays to an initial court ruling, which was issued in response to a petition by the non-governmental group Yesh Din.
It called on the court to reject the petition stating that it was an “insult to the rule of law” and was politically motivated to “evade carrying out the ruling.”
“Yesh Din expects the High Court to reject this request swiftly in order to aid the State in directing its efforts to enforcing the law and returning the land in question to its rightful owners, residents of the Palestinian communities of Silwad, Taybeh and Ein Yabrud, as it should be doing,” the group said.
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.
The US decision to remove its nuclear arsenal from Turkey is apparent confirmation that, almost overnight, Erdoğan has abandoned his alliance with the West and shifted to the East, vis-a-vis Moscow. His anticipated welcome to Tehran’s superpower teammates, Russia and China, has sobering implications for Israel.
In a move characterized as “an earthshaking Middle East development,” the Israeli intelligence news service, DEBKAfile, reports that the United States of America is hastily removing its entire nuclear arsenal out of Turkey. It is yet another indication that the USA is “folding its tents in the Middle East.”
And taking its place? On land, in the skies and from the sea: Russia.
Moscow is rapidly expanding its air force footprint in the region with a new base in Iran following its facility in Syria. Advanced bombers and fighters are stepping up operations in both countries, while Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles gather in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas, DEBKA reports.
For years, the US has maintained an arsenal of 50 to 70 B61 nuclear bombs at the southern Turkish airbase of Incirlik. They have been kept in underground bunkers, close to airstrips where, of late, US bombers have been launching missions against ISIS in Syria only 70 miles (112 kilometers) away.
Those missions came to a virtual halt after an attempted coup to oust Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in mid-July. In the aftermath of that unsuccessful coup, Erdoğan implictly accused Washington for it.
My people know who is behind this scheme… they know who the superior intelligence behind it is… you are giving yourselves away, he said.
Erdoğan’s reference to “the superior intelligence” was an all-but transparent reference to US President Obama and the military-intelligence forces under his control as their Commander in Chief.
Based on the conviction that Washington was behind the coup, Erdogan immediately began rapprochement talks with Russia. On 17 July, only two days after suppressing the attempted overthrow, he ended his nation’s feud with Russia. After meeting with Russian President Putin on 8 August, the two countries agreed to share intelligence, military and energy resources. In the aftermath of that agreement, there have been calls in Turkey to replace US warplanes at Incirlik with Russian fighters.
It is for these reasons, and probably more, that analysts today believe Erdoğan is also on the verge of joining Moscow’s alliance with Tehran.
If so, in a matter of weeks, Erdoğan has abandoned his country’s alliance with the West, vis-a-vis NATO, and pledged his allegiance to the East, vis-a-vis Moscow.
The USA’s rapid removal of its nuclear arsenal from Turkey seems to verify this conclusion.
The implications of this ‘overnight’ realignment of powers has profound implications for the Jewish State. In the name of defeating ISIS, Turkey, Russia and China have all allied themselves with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation that is explicitly committed to Israel’s annhilation. Right now the focus of this massive international league is ISIS. But next on the list, according to Tehran, is Israel.
Brian Schrauger is the Editor-In-Chief of The Jerusalem Journal. He can be reached at Editor@JerusalemJournal.net
At first blush, Russia seems like a viable alternative. In recent years, under the direction of its strongman president, Vladimir Putin, Moscow has moved back into the Middle East with a vengeance. It has deftly exploited the vacuum left by the Obama administration’s disengagement from the region, expanding its political and economic ties throughout the Middle East and North Africa. And Israel, energy-rich and economically dynamic, has become as an important strategic prize for the Kremlin, leading to quickening political contacts over the past year – and the promise of still more to come.
But, as attractive as the idea of an alignment with Moscow might be, there are at least three reasons for Israeli policymakers to remain deeply apprehensive of Russia.
Iran – Over the past decade, Russia has served as a key strategic partner of the Iranian regime, and a major enabler of its nuclear effort. With the start of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers in November of 2013, the Kremlin took on an even more decisive diplomatic role, and was instrumental in securing a settlement highly favorable to the Iranian regime.
Moscow has unquestionably reaped the dividends. Since the passage of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action last summer, Russia has signed new, multi-billion dollar arms deals with Tehran – greatly strengthening Iran’s military potential, as well as the threat it poses to its neighbors, in the process.
Syria – Russia’s decision last fall to intervene militarily in support of Syrian president Bashar Assad touched off a flurry of diplomatic activity in Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly flew to Moscow to liaise with President Putin to receive security assurances, and the militaries of both countries remain in close contact in order to “deconflict” the airspace in southern Syria.
This modus vivendi has worked well, at least so far. But Russia’s strategy is shifting; back in March, Putin – worried over the possibility of an open-ended conflict in the Middle East – unexpectedly announced that his government was withdrawing the “main part” of its forces from the Syrian battlefield. Since then, the Kremlin has adopted an increasingly minimalist approach. Instead of pursuing an expansive campaign to dislodge the Islamic State terrorist group from the country, Russia’s “Plan B” involves the creation of an Alawite enclave in the country’s west, encompassing its strategic naval presence in Tartus and its newly-erected air base in Latakia.
That, however, effectively leaves Israel’s northern flank undefended, and raises the possibility of far greater instability along the common border between the two countries.
America – Moscow’s enduring objective in the Middle East is to become an indispensable power broker, and to do so at America’s expense. That goal is likely to make it exceedingly difficult for Israel to reconcile its burgeoning ties with Moscow with its historic ones to Washington.
Netanyahu has been quick to stress that America, and not Russia, remains Israel’s main international partner. But while the Israeli government may not see its relationship with Russia as a zero-sum game, the Kremlin clearly does. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that Moscow’s outreach will be accompanied by initiatives intended to drive a wedge between Jerusalem and Washington. The likely price of Russia’s friendship, in other words, will be a worsening of the US-Israeli partnership.
All of which should serve to remind of us of the old adage that countries do not have eternal allies, only eternal interests. Just because Russia’s temporarily coincide with those of Israel doesn’t mean that Moscow represents a dependable ally for Jerusalem.