Tackle Russia as it is Syria’s and Iran’s boss

When a Syrian anti-aircraft missile shot down an Israeli F-16 the first person that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Bibi) called was Russian President Vladimir Putin. My view is that this is the clearest indication yet that Moscow is the boss when it comes to Syria and Iran. And probably also talks with the Palestinians as they refuse to talk to pro-Israel Trump.

This is not to say that Bibi and Putin are in a dispute and it is not to say that they are friends and most important it is not to say that Russia is going to help us. Bibi knows he has to work on this because history shows that nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests. Bibi has developed a close working relationship with Putin, having met the Russian leader in Moscow at the end of January and elsewhere at least seven times in the past 18 months.

Certainly, Russia has vital interests in both Syria and Iran and certainly would place these ahead of relations with Israel. Iranian and Syrian oil and Syrian naval ports on the Mediterranean are nothing that Israel can offer Russia. Rather  Russia is acutely aware that should any groups in Syria or Iran or the governments of these states threaten, or attack Israel then Israeli responses would certainly harm Russian interests or even destroy Russian interests in these states.

So, dialogue between Israel and Russia and coordination seems the prudent way to satisfy Russian interests. However, this seemingly leaves Russia having its cake and eating it while Israel is left wondering when the next war will erupt in the North and what will happen with Iran’s missile and nuclear programs supported by Russia. Israel officials must be talking about what will it take to positively persuade Russia to get Iran out of Syria and Lebanon? And what will it take to positively persuade Russia to curtail the Iranian missile and nuclear programs?

The facts speak that Israel is not doing too well in persuading Russia. Russia is clearly content to be the main power in Syria and also have Iranian involvement in Syria to assist in furthering Russian interests and in doing so threatening Israel’s security.

And where is America in this story? Well America isn’t! But that’s OK because the American Embassy is moving to Jerusalem. We can’t expect America to do everything for Israel! Especially as although Trump is a great friend of Israel he clearly is not really able to do much as he has almost no leverage on the ground.

Sum it up for American involvement – Jerusalem gets American help (Thank you), peace with Palestinians is status quo (Thank you as that is better than any other option), Syria is sliding out of control and Russia is backing them and Iran there and not us (say what America??? OK last war was 11 years ago and time for the next), Iran is making missiles and nuclear weapons with Russian support and technology (America is not slowing them down – nothing new in that news).

So, it is not surprising that Putin is the person that Bibi calls when it comes to regional problems, indicating that the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Middle East field. Bibi as Foreign Minister has diplomatically chosen to be the only US ally not to criticize Russian involvement in the Ukraine. He was also very careful not to name Russian involvement in the Iranian UAV flight into Israel airspace even though it is well known that the drone was launched from a Russian-controlled base.

Reciprocity rules in diplomacy. Russian public policy takes the Arab side when it comes to diplomacy involving Israel. It still votes against Israel in the UN Security Council and is the main arms supplier to Syria and Iran.

There is a difference between diplomacy and military action. Bibi as Prime Minister has acted. Israel’s strike on over 40 targets in Syria in response to the downing of the F-16 did scare Russia. The first words from the Russian side called for any steps, which might trigger a new spiral of dangerous for all confrontation in the region, to be avoided. Once an assessment of the damage was done Russia realized Israel’s military might and quickly stated that any threats to life and security of Russian service personnel, who are in the Syrian Arab Republic at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist the fight against terrorists, is absolutely unacceptable.

The lesson to be learnt is that talk is talk and to nudge the Russian giant into action needs more than just talk. Russia as the main military force in Syria can get Iran out of there. Russia as the supplier of nuclear reactors to Iran can have leverage over Iran. It is time to move from talk to making Russia aware of the costs and consequences of supporting and assisting those who threaten Israel.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
Related Topics
Related Posts