President Barack Obama’s abysmal failure to provide leadership during the Syrian
crisis represents a turning point in the Middle East and has paved the way for
President Vladimir Putin’s Russia to emerge as the dominant regional force, a
position it had surrendered after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
avert abject humiliation, Obama has absurdly spun the situation into a victory
achieved by the American threat of military force. Instead, it was Putin who
played the role of international statesman and masterminded a watershed moment
for the Middle East, in which Russia effectively supplanted the US as world
Were Syrian President Bashar Assad to actually dismantle his
chemical stockpiles, Putin would have made an important contribution to regional
peace and stability. Alas, the likelihood of this happening is exceedingly
Given the barbaric civil war raging throughout Syria, and the
history of Syrian lies and deceit, it is virtually impossible to establish any
meaningful form of surveillance or control.
Nonetheless, Putin has
established a significant role for himself in the Mideast region.
process, he has potentially enabled Assad to emerge a victor, despite until now
having been embattled and on the brink of collapse. The stated deadline is only
mid-2014. Already, there are reports that Assad has dispersed and concealed his
With the passage of days, weeks and months, interest in
controlling his stockpiles will wane and the possibility of taking action will
be effectively forestalled.
There will be no consequences to Assad’s
actions, since Russia endorsed and the US capitulated to his demand that an
agreement eschew any mention of reverting to military action should he renege on
In orchestrating his maneuvers in Syria, Putin has demonstrated
not only his support of Syria and Iran, but his ability to stand up and deliver
on behalf of his allies. Putin achieved regional hegemony through Russia’s
alliance with a broad Shi’ite arc that encompasses Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and
is likely to include Iraq.
Egypt is currently out of the equation, but in
the past it was the most stalwart of America’s regional allies.
distrusts the Obama administration for its abandonment of ousted president Hosni
Mubarak and its support of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, making it similarly
susceptible to Russian influence.
Putin’s objective is to re-create a
bipolar global dynamic in which Russia is the dominant power, demonstrating a
determination to confront and undermine America on virtually all issues. While
he is condemned in the Western world for his authoritarian rule, brutal
suppression of dissidents and failure to root out rampant corruption, despite
his country’s economic and military limitations, he has harnessed Russia’s
energy resources to make impressive progress.
PUTIN HAS now successfully
promoted himself as an international statesman and will undoubtedly continue to
exploit nationalism and anti-Americanism in order to raise his standing within
his domestic constituency.
His rhetoric reflects this new approach. He
did not attempt to morally defend Assad’s actions.
Reagan would turn in his grave were he aware of the sanctimonious and cynical
paraphrase of his sentiments by Putin in a recent New York Times article,
stating, “We are all different, but when we ask the Lord’s blessings, we must
not forget that God created us equal.... We must stop using the language of
force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political
These developments inevitably revive memories of the Soviet
Union’s nefarious role in the Middle East during the Cold War and its collusion
with Arab states attempting to destroy the Jewish state. It is also reminiscent
of the global anti-Semitic campaigns that culminated in the infamous UN
resolution that equated Zionism with racism.
But it would be incorrect
and misleading to place Putin in the same category as the leaders of the Evil
Empire. Unlike the pathological Soviet anti-Semites, Putin has not displayed a
hatred of the Jewish people.
On the contrary, he selected Israel as the
first country to visit after his election and, while here, repeatedly remarked
on how pleased he was to visit a state that included more than a million
He has even warned, however disingenuously,
that the Syrian rebels were preparing for a poison gas attack against
But this should not mislead us into regarding Putin as a
philo-Semite. Rather, he will collaborate with Israel if it best serves Russia’s
objectives. However, he has continuously employed the Russian veto at the UN
Security Council in relation to Iran and Syria, and has supported the Iranians,
despite their nuclear ambitions which pose an existential threat to
Indeed, there are now reports that the Russians will provide
Tehran with highly advanced defense systems, including five batteries of
state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, which will certainly make
any future military intervention far more hazardous.
The Russian media
has also reported that in the course of his forthcoming meeting with Iranian
President Hassan Rohani, Putin is likely to offer a new nuclear
The most serious fallout from the Syrian debacle is the Iranian
perception of Obama. His threat to intervene militarily if the Iranians sought
to achieve their nuclear objectives was always in doubt but now it has simply
become a joke. Not surprisingly, Tehran has praised the US for employing
“rationality.” This will oblige Israel to make some very difficult decisions in
the near future.
Israel must now persuade Russia, with whom it has
developed good relations in recent years, to draw the line at providing weapons
to its allies that would undermine Israel’s security and power of
This will test the influence of former Russians like Avigdor
Liberman, who claims to enjoy a unique relationship with the current Russian
leadership. However in light of recent events, we must be aware that Putin’s
total focus on furthering Russian influence in the region may lead to his
abandonment of Israel in the process.
Israel must not allow itself to be
drawn into the regional turmoil. We must deny Assad’s demand that Israel ratify
the chemical weapons agreement before Syria does. We must reject Putin’s hint
that Assad’s chemical weapons were a poor man’s deterrence against Israel’s
nuclear power. We must also be prepared for the possibility that the Obama
administration may intensify pressure on us to “make greater sacrifices” to
reach a settlement with the Palestinians in order to divert attention from its
dreadful failure in Syria.
The unfolding of the Syrian story serves to
underline the message: while Israel must retain the support of the American
people and Congress in order to combat global political pressures and to
withstand Russia’s increasingly active role in the region, we must depend on
ourselves and forgo illusions of relying on US military support. As Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, quoting The Ethics of Our Fathers following
the Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur at my synagogue, “if I am not for myself,
who will be for me?”
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