Why does Israel get a Putin Green Light?
Israel has found itself is a relatively strong position militarily and politically with respect to Iran/Hezbollah in the Middle East over the past half year. Achieved partly by agreeing with the White House to be patient and adhere to the American-European-Russian plan for dealing with Iran in Syria. Under the plan the Trump Administration will intensify the destruction of what is left of Iran’s nearly collapsed economy with massive new sanctions and Israel gets carte blanche to bomb all of Iran and Hezbollah’s military sites in Syria which intensifying missile attacks.
The “Resistance Axis” in Syria is reportedly by some (Syrian students as well as some government officials) as being afraid to step above ground or out of the shadows because they fear that their every footstep in being closely watched and in less than a minute can be zoomed in on by one deadly device or another.
Putin is fine with this, knowing that Iran has no intension of leaving Syria and seeing it as the main threat to the region. Israel can’t accept the unlimited growth of Iranian influence in Syria, as this threatens its own national security. Moscow must consider both Israel’s and Iran’s security concerns, which surely are mutually exclusive.
According to some Russian soldiers with more than two years deployment in Syria, Putin is said to believe, as does the Russian army in Syria, that the more IRCG and weapons loses Iran and Hezbollah sustain from Israel the better for the region and Russia’s post-war reconstruction prospects in Syria. Over the past several months, Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that Iran has no effective conventional response to Israeli air actions.
More broadly, while Israeli air action may make the Iranians think twice in terms of deployment of heavy weapons systems in Syria, the broader Iranian project of establishing local client militias and stationing proxy forces on Syria soil remains largely untouched and invulnerable to Israeli air action.
In recent months Israel launched numerous attacks on Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria and Moscow turned a blind eye to them. This was a strong signal to Assad that Russia cannot and will not protect his military if the Iranians continue to expand their military presence in Syria. It also underlined that Russia takes Israeli security concerns into account. Moscow also doesn’t want to risk its ties with Israel, which is an important partner in many spheres. Economically, Israel is Russia’s fourth largest trading partner in the region, with a turnover of $2.5 billion in 2017, which exceeds that with Iran at $1.7 billion. Russia and Israel have established close and effective cooperation in the military, intelligence, and security spheres.
When Russia deployed its military to Syria, it immediately established a coordination channel with Israel to avoid any incidents. This channel has functioned flawlessly so far. Another important factor is that Israel acts as an additional channel of communication between the United States and Russia, one that understands Russian concerns in the region. Putin wants normal across the board relations with the US and its allies. However, this raises a question: To what lengths are Russia and Israel ready to pursue their current interests in Syria? So far, they have managed to, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case forever.
Putin’s moves are about making Damascus understand that it needs to keep the Iranians and their allies away from the border with Israel and not provoke Israeli attacks.
In the end, it appears that Putin is telling Assad that he won’t benefit from an hegemonic Iranian presence and influence in Syria, as this will only create much more pressure being on Damascus, bringing many more problems and complicating a political settlement.
Why does Iran get a Putin Red Light?
Russian president Putin increasingly communicates that he wants all Iranian forces out of Syria entirely. Frankly, so does the Assad regime, but not just yet. Given a choice between Moscow and Tehran, Assad chose Russia, during their meeting in Sochi, Syrian official confirm.
The “alliance” between Russia and Iran in Syria never had much romance in it but rather the result of some short term perceived interests. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei both strove to save the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the more this goal is achieved, the further the fissures between Tehran and Moscow widen.
For more than the past couple of years, General Qassim Solemani, the al Quds leader has spoken openly about his distrust of Putin. The Mullahs in Tehran suspect that Putin was interested in playing the role of sole decision maker in Syria.
As long as the Syrian regime was in danger of collapse, Putin appreciated the fact that more than two dozen Shiite militias, Iranians and Hezbollah fighters were being crushed in the battlefield and sparing Russians from many of those loses and countless other problems. But now, Putin believes the time may have come for Iran to leave Syria and forget about controlling the Arab region.
Russian diplomats told Arab news outlets that Putin has opted for a stronger stance toward Iran, which he now views as a destabilizing element impeding Russian interests in Syria: “Assad received an unequivocal message that he had to choose between Moscow and Tehran, and he chose the Russian side,” a senior official in Assad’s regime told Kremlin mouthpiece RT news. Assad said on 6/1/18 with a straight face that Iran’s presence in Syria was limited to officers assisting the Syrian army not the 110,000 Iranian trained, funded and armed militia or Hezbollah. They simply were not in Syria he insisted despite their rising death tolls.
The Kremlin has given Israel a green light yet again on 6/1/18 to launch as many attacks in Syria as it believes warranted, if they do not target Syrian President Assad’s personal assets, i.e. the Presidential Palace which is a very easy target sitting high on a hill above central Damascus on Mt. Qasioun. But Israel had pushed back on Putin’s edict. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is “no longer immune” from retaliation, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned during a visit to London on 6/7/2018. “He is no longer immune; his regime is no longer immune. If he fires at us, we will destroy his forces. A new calculus has taken place and Syria has to understand that Israel will not tolerate Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.”.
According to the London based Asharq Al-Awsat report, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu assured the Israeli Defense Minister during their meeting on the subject of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria in Moscow on 5/31/18 of Russia’s approval for Israeli strikes.
The arrangements include complete removal of any Iranian/Hezbollah presence in southern Syria closer than 40 to 50 miles from the Syrian-Israeli border. Media reports as of 6/1/18 from Washington and Gulf countries reported that Putin now wants all Iranian 120,000 militia including Hezbollah out of all of Syria without further delays.
Under no circumstances will Iran accept this order from Putin. There exist significant Moscow-Tehran conflicts on several major issues. One is the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. Others include postwar political reforms, the role of the Kurds, cooperation with the United States, the extent of their postwar military presence and influence in Syria, to name a few.
However, Iranian advisers and Hezbollah combatants will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Yet Putin has found himself in a tough spot where it cannot easily control Iranian actions in Syria, contrary to the belief of many. While Moscow has tried to increase pressure to allow for more compromise, Tehran can easily sabotage any initiative or plan proposed by Russia that doesn’t suit its interests. Tehran has already done so on numerous occasions, especially about the de-escalation zones and a political process in Syria. It will be difficult, therefore, for Moscow to reach an agreement with Iran. As a result, the Kremlin will need extra leverage to exert more pressure to move any realistic political process forward.
Why do Assad and Trump receive Putin’s the Yellow Light?
Putin has decided that there are special roles for Bashar Assad and Donald Trump for a political solution to the Syrian conflict and restoring the war battered country that has cost more than 3 million Syrians their jobs thus collapsing the economy. Putin seeks both as Syrian Reconstruction partners.
Using a Yellow Light, Putin arranged Assad’s latest snap visit to Sochi on 5/17/18 which showed that this might be happening. Because of the meeting, Assad agreed to send Syrian governmental representatives to Geneva to take part in the work of the Constitutional Committee to draft Syria’s new constitution. Assad’s commitment is an important concession given after the conference on Syria in Sochi earlier this year when Assad refused to accept participation in the Constitutional Committee. That was a slap to Putin, but apparently Putin applied pressure to get what he wanted. Moscow will continue increasing pressure on Assad. It needs results in Syria, which require concessions from Damascus, Ankara, Iran, and Russia itself.
Putin’s moves are also about Yellow Lighting Damascus that it needs to keep the Iranians and their allies away from the border with Israel and not provoke Israeli attacks. Putin is telling Assad that he won’t benefit from an Iranian presence and influence in Syria, as this will only lead to more pressure being exerted on Damascus, bringing further problems and complicating a political settlement.
Putin and Assad both know well that the regime is between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the withdrawal of the Iranians, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the rest of the militias will weaken its power, leading to its possible collapse. On another hand, if these forces stay in Syria, it means it (the regime) will become their puppet.
Putin is advising the Trump White not to rush into joining the military factions in northern and central Syria have just announced that they are joining forces to form the National Liberation Front (NLF) and calling on others to join them in building a new democratic state that preserves the rights of all Syrians regardless of ethnicity. The NLF includes a number of major opposition military factions operating in northern and central Syria, among them the Free Idlib Army, Martyrs of Islam Brigade, Jaish al-Nasr and others. The group was launched in May. 2018, when Col. Fadlallah Al-Hajji was appointed commander in chief, with Lt. Col. Suhaib Leoush as his deputy and Maj. Mohamed Mansour as chief of staff. “The NLF is a new military formation that was the result of four months of consultations and negotiations between the leaders of the Free Syrian Army factions. The leaders Putin is also Yellow Lighting President Trump urging caution with respect to the announcement of 6/6/18 during which Iran’s nuclear chief inaugurated the Islamic Republic’s new nuclear enrichment facility. It has been reported from Washington that some in the Trump admonition advocate destroying it.
Putin is reportedly urging Washington to cooperate with “Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Yamani has called on the United States for cooperation to thwart any attempt of a new Hezbollah being formed in Yemen, which would threaten security and stability in the region. Al-Yamani said, during his meeting in Riyadh with the US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, that his government supports the United States position towards the Iranian regime and rejects Iran’s “intervention and its absurd agenda” in the region. He discussed the importance of all partners’ continued support and backed efforts for a peaceful political settlement in Yemen including that of the UN envoy’s attempts to find a just and sustainable political solution to the crisis in the country.”
It is the view of this observer than the coming weeks will witness substantial developments in Syria, Iran and Lebanon. If the outcomes are positive we may be in the position of crediting Russia’s President Putin. This will not erase his status with the forthcoming International Tribunal on Syria (ITS) where he is expected to be indicted for a ranges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it may well benefit to an important degree the innocent people of Syria in the coming period.