Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves after delivering a speech for the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although Israeli and American intelligence communities knew in advance that Iran agreed to host Russian bombers on its soil, the two countries are puzzled by the development but understand its strategic importance – not only to the Middle East, but globally.
The presence of Russia’s strategic bombers and strike fighters on an air base in western Iran is the result of secret cooperation by two countries aimed at boosting their military cooperation. This marks the first time the Russian air force has attacked targets inside Syria from a third country since it deployed its forces in Syria in support of Bashar Assad’s regime.
The tactical explanation for the move is that the Khmeimim Air Base east of the city of Latakia in Syria is not large enough to host the Tu22 strategic bomber. Until now, this base was Russia’s main launching pad for operating its smaller jets and helicopters against the rebels.
Only a few months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would decrease the Russian military presence in Syria.
Indeed, Russian TV stations showed Russian troops and airplanes going home – but it was just an illusion.
Russia not only has no intention of ending its involvement in Syria, but it actually has a larger strategy: to increase its presence in the Middle East.
In that sense, Putin is taking advantage of the incoherent and hesitant US foreign policy of President Barack Obama. It seems the US is trying to detach itself from world conflicts, which may well result in a new version of isolationism.
To achieve this objective, Russia is also enhancing its military cooperation with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and just last week resolved its problems and tensions with Turkey.
Israeli-Russian relations should also be viewed from this angle.
Israeli sources claim the deployment of the Russian planes in Iran is not, for the moment, a game changer for Israeli interests. But, off the record, they do admit that it can – in the future – have negative implications.
It is also clear to Israeli military officials that Moscow is trying to create a wedge between the US and its traditional allies. American allies – including Israel – understand the new Russian game and its true motives, but still feel they have no choice but to tacitly support it.
In Jerusalem, Cairo, Riyadh and Ankara, Russia is viewed as the rising military star in the region while the US is perceived as a falling star. And it is not only Russia sensing American weakness – China has also increased its efforts to play a major role in the Middle East and strengthen its posture in the region, announcing this week that it will provide aid and training assistance to Assad’s army.