Syria-Iran conundrum

Putin’s interest is to keep Assad in power and wield influence on Syria. Israel’s interest is what makes the Wednesday meeting between Netanyahu and Putin so vital. In one word, it’s Iran.

May 7, 2018 20:21
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on January 29, 2018.. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)


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Meetings between the leaders of Israel and Russia are always significant, but this week’s visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a heightened sense of urgency surrounding it.

As the main protector of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his cruel regime, Putin is in essence calling the shots in that war-torn country which borders Israel on the north. In their previous meetings, which are taking place more frequently than at any time in the up-and-down Israel-Russian relationship, Netanyahu and Putin seem to have reached an understanding regarding each other’s interest in the region.

Putin’s interest is to keep Assad in power and wield influence on Syria. Israel’s interest is what makes the Wednesday meeting between Netanyahu and Putin so vital. In one word, it’s Iran.

A convergence of events is making Syrian territory increasingly dangerous to Israel, as Netanyahu outlined at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Iran is increasing efforts to establish military bases in Syria to be used against Israel. And in recent months, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has transferred advanced weaponry – including attack drones, ground-to-ground missiles and anti-aircraft systems – that would threaten both IAF aircraft and the home front.

Although, according to foreign reports, Israel has been repeatedly successful in hitting Iranian positions in Syria, there have been worrisome indications that Moscow intends to supply Syria with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems that could restrict Israel’s freedom of action in Syrian skies.

The saber rattling on both sides is reaching a boiling point, and the Israeli public wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that the country is being prepared for an impending conflict. Israeli media quoted IDF sources on Sunday as saying that Iran has plans to fire missiles from Syria at Israeli army bases in the North in retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike on the Iranian T4 base in Syria last month that killed seven IRGC soldiers.

Netanyahu himself indicated that direct conflict with Iran is a very real possibility – and not in the distant future. “We are determined to stop the Iranian aggression against us, even if it involves a struggle. It is better now than later. Nations that were unwilling to act in time against murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices later,” he said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz went further out on a limb, telling Ynet that Israel would consider sweeping measure to prevent Iran from using Syrian soil to attack the Jewish state, including the targeted assassination of Assad.

“If [Assad] continues allowing Iran to operate within Syrian territory, Israel will liquidate him and topple his regime. If Assad lets Iran turn Syria into a military base against us, to attack us from Syrian territory, he should know that will be the end of him,” Steinitz was quoted as saying.

That’s where Israel’s interests and Russia’s interests drastically diverge. Until now, Putin has allowed Israel free reign within Syria to curb Iran’s intentions due to his mutual understanding with Netanyahu that Israel does not involve itself with Syria’s civil war.

Of course, it should be in Putin’s interests as well to prevent the Iranian lethal virus from infecting an already gravely ill Syria. Netanyahu will undoubtedly attempt to present such an argument when he joins the Russian leader for the annual parade in Moscow marking Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany.

As The Jerusalem Post ’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon pointed out Monday, diplomatic officials have said that Israel’s recognition of the Red Army’s crucial role in defeating the Nazis has been an important part of the development of strong Israel-Russian ties.

Praise is due to Netanyahu for fostering strong ties with Putin, especially in light of the precarious reality of having both the IDF and the Russian Army operating in Syria. As former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon revealed recently, the IAF came close to inadvertently shooting down a Russian Air Force jet that was headed toward Israeli airspace in 2 015 .

Regular dialogue between Israel and Russia, which has replaced the US as the superpower in the region, is vital amid such potential points of conflict. Although their respective interests in Syria may never converge, Israel is in a better place by having the open channel with the Kremlin that Netanyahu has forged. We hope his emphatic redline mes- sage about Iran is received and absorbed by Moscow.

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