Moscow unimpressed by Israel’s request for help
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week had meetings in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the latest developments in the occupied Golan Heights and the risk of a military confrontation between Iran and Israel. Netanyahu’s visit — on the day Russians celebrated the anniversary of victory over the Nazis — was significant and symbolic. Putin used the occasion to send the message that no solution to the Syrian conflict will be possible without Russia.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin was his eighth in less than two years, but this was perhaps the most important, as it coincided with the escalation of tensions and the increased possibility of an Iranian retaliatory response to Israeli air strikes.
In other words, the Israelis have sought Russian help in Syria to counter Iranian threats. But will Moscow meet Israel’s demands?
Since Netanyahu’s presentation about Iranian nuclear activities and Israel’s secret understanding with Putin regarding its strikes on Syria, the Russian government has maintained a deafening silence. The Israel-Russia talks have not been overtly covered in the Russian media, as the visit coincided with many official activities, including the Victory Day celebrations. However, well-informed sources say that Israeli officials came to Moscow to smooth things over with their hosts as they don’t want to see a dramatic turnaround in relations.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Putin to intervene and persuade the Iranians to back down by not launching any further missiles on the Golan Heights. Thus the Israelis, though they have mounted strikes on Iranian and Syrian military sites on a regular basis, sought Russian intervention to prevent any future Iranian retaliation, which would fuel tension between Arabs and Israelis once the Americans move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday.
Israel should silence its weapons before asking for support from Russia.
Putin is currently busy dealing with the American administration following its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and how this will affect the de-escalation zones in Syria. The Russian president has informed Netanyahu he will resume talks with Washington vis-a-vis enforcing the de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria in order to avoid a direct clash between Israeli and Iranian forces near the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow came after Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi went to Sochi and met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to discuss recent developments close to Jordan’s borders. Lavrov said afterwards: “Today we agreed to continue cooperation on this important issue both bilaterally and trilaterally, involving Americans and the monitoring center.”
In light of Netanyahu’s efforts to convince Putin to contain Iran, the Russians are playing tactical and strategic games. Putin has reached a state of intransigence regarding Israeli double-dealing, roguishness and shenanigans when dealing with the Syrian conflict. He refused to schedule an appointment with Netanyahu in Moscow until it coincided with the Victory Day celebrations.
What drove Netanyahu to visit Putin was the developments near Israel’s borders and the fact that, without Russian assistance, Tel Aviv and the US would not be sure they could repel an Iranian ground attack, as unlikely as that is. But Putin is aware of a rumored American plan to establish three new states in Syria. He is not satisfied with the American dream of creating these entities and is also not happy with the Israeli attitude.
Putin warned Netanyahu during their meeting that, if the Syrian opposition was to be given artillery, armored or four-wheel drive vehicles, or man-portable air defense systems, he would approve giving the S-300 and other advanced arms to Damascus. This was a warning not only to Israel, but also to the Americans and their allies.
It is axiomatic that Israelis strike and then ask for assistance, fearing any further escalation. Yet the Israeli government should try to convince the Russian leadership that it is serious and ready for peace in the Middle East. That is the only way to end the dispute and de-escalate tension along Syria’s borders with Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. Yes, Russia has a big say, but Israel should silence its weapons before asking for Russian support.
- Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme