Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Russian build-up in Syria puts Israel on the back foot

Asia Times: M.K. Bhadrakumar

Definitely a thought provoking read. I personally take issue with some points made, nonetheless, worth reading entirely, at least twice. Since this is posted for the purpose of discussing the issues raised feel free to share a thought or two on what Bhadrakumar has written.

This piece is the obvious follow up to yesterday's post : Israel & Russia "agreed on a mechanism to prevent misunderstandings"- Netanyahu
"There is a saying, ‘misfortunes never come singly’. That must have been the thought on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s mind as he headed for Moscow Monday on what the Russians described as a 3-hour “short working visit” – a call on President Vladimir Putin at his residence in city suburbs for what a top Kremlin official forecast would be “a business and frank conversation” (read plain-speaking), and back to the airport on the return journey. We don’t know whether Putin hosted a lunch for ‘Bibi’.

The Russian military build-up in Syria comes as a big setback to Netanyahu’s regional policies. And it comes immediately after the spectacular defeat he suffered in the campaign to kill the Iran nuclear deal.

In the normal course, the Syrian developments should have prompted Netanyahu to huddle together with the American president, but the White House has earmarked a slot for the Israeli leader in November. The Israel-US relations are in visible difficulty, and on top of it now, a cloud of uncertainty has appeared over Israel-Russia ties as well. It is a moment of reckoning for Israeli diplomacy.

Netanyahu’s office had said he would discuss with Putin “the stationing of Russian forces in Syria… (and) will present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war material to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organizations”.

But the Kremlin had entirely different ideas. A statement in Moscow said, “Urgent issues of bilateral cooperation and the international agenda are scheduled to be discussed. In particular, the sides are expected to exchange opinions on the issue of the Middle East peace process and the fight against the global terrorist threat.”

Surely, Russians knew Palestine issue was last thing on Netanyahu’s order of priority, but they gently let it be known to the Israeli side beforehand that Moscow’s military intervention in Syria to help the government fight the terrorist groups no matter what it takes is a well-thought out policy decision that was not open to negotiation.

Curiously, on the eve of Netanyahu’s departure for Moscow, Russian news agency carried a curtain raiser entitled What Does Netanyahu’s Blitz Visit to Moscow Aim to Accomplish? And it said among other things that Moscow does not regard the Hezbollah as a terrorist organization but that the Lebanese militant group is “assisting the Syrian military in its war against terror groups… including Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL”.

The commentary speculated that Netanyahu’s real purpose would be: to fathom the Russian intentions in Syria; to find out additional details about the Russian deployment; to dissuade Russia from giving advanced weaponry such as S-300 and S-400 missiles to Syria; and, to “coordinate” with Moscow so that no military clashes took place between the two countries on Syrian soil. (Israeli chief of staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot accompanied Netanyahu to Moscow).

The Russian accounts of the conversation between Putin and Netanyahu on Monday freely acknowledged that the two countries disagreed on Syria. Netanyahu was quoted as saying to Putin that he had come to Moscow “to explain our position and do everything so there are no misunderstandings of our region or yours”. It was a subtle reference to Israel’s activities in Ukraine directed against Russian interests.

But it is unlikely that Moscow is even remotely contemplating a trade-off with Israel over Ukraine, where tensions are easing, thanks to growing proximity between Russia and the West. Looking back, was it really necessary for Israel to have jumped into the Ukrainian cauldron and caused annoyance to Moscow, without due consideration of consequences?

The impression conveyed by the Russian accounts is that Putin patiently heard out Netanyahu and showed “understanding” for Israel’s security concerns, but did not make any promises – except of course that Russian actions in Syria will be “very responsible” (as they have always been) and that the Israeli fears of a “second front” in the Golan Heights are far-fetched, because the Syrian government forces have their hands full and have no intentions to start a war with Israel.

Without doubt, Israel’s dealings with the al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria are known to Moscow. In a series of reports to the UN Security Council, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force documented numerous instances of Israeli military’s dealings with the radical Islamist groups on the Israeli-Syrian border of the Golan Heights.

Putin said last week, “We must put aside geopolitical ambitions, abandon the so-called double standards, the policy of direct or indirect use of certain terrorist groups for opportunistic purposes, including changes of government and regimes disliked by someone.”

The description fits Israel’s role in Syria rather aptly, and it stands to reason that Israel’s nexus with the radical Islamist groups in Syria will become – if it hasn’t already – a major element in the Russian policy calculus in the coming period.

No doubt, the Russian-Israeli relations are set to enter a complicated period. Russia, especially Putin, tried hard to keep the relations on an even keel, but the contradictions over Syria cannot be pushed under the carpet. In the final analysis, it all depends on what the scope of the Russian build-up in Syria is going to be in the coming weeks and months.

Conceivably, Israel will have to take certain difficult decisions. Syria’s open skies may not remain defenceless for much longer and the country may not present itself as a hunting ground for Israeli jets attacking targets with impunity. This is one thing.

Second, if Russia puts ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria at some stage – something that cannot entirely be ruled out – Israel faces a power dynamic in its neighborhood that has no precedents in all of its history. Simply put, a far superior power has arrived in the immediate neighborhood and life cannot go on as before.

Third, it cannot be ruled out that the Syrian government forces in coordination with the Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militia will make attempts at some point to reclaim the areas adjacent to the Golan Heights which have been under the control of the Israel-friendly al-Qaeda groups. If that happens, the security implications are going to be profound for Israel.

But then, it all depends on the peace process in Syria that is set to begin and the sort of transition that may take place. Russia is neither likely to intervene with Iran or the Hezbollah as regards their activities in the Golan Heights area nor is going to boost the Hezbollah’s capabilities.

But it stands to reason, though, that neither Iran nor Hezbollah is spoiling for a fight with Israel. On the other hand, Russia and Iran have coordinated their moves in Syria so far and Russia also has a line open to the Hezbollah. Therefore, taking into account the totality of the emergent Russian approach on Syria – and its dominant political and diplomatic thrust – Moscow can be expected to restrain the protagonists from exacerbating tensions with Israel.

Fourth, the Russian presence in Syria and the Russian-Iranian axis virtually put a full stop to any Israeli dreams of having a voice at the high table as regards the future of Syria. A fragmentation of Syria might be in the Israeli interests but the Russian intervention aims at preserving Syria’s unity and territorial integrity – and there is also an international consensus on that score. Put differently, Israel needs to learn to live with the Syrian neighbor it gets. Geography and politics cannot be wished away.

Israel would have hoped that there will be a stand-off between the West and Russia over the latter’s military build-up in Syria. But on the contrary, the West is pondering over the terms under which a constructive engagement with Russia becomes possible so as to bring about a transition in Syria very soon.

Quite obviously, the West is no longer insisting on President Bashar a-Assad stepping down later today as a precondition for the transition. Equally, the West has welcomed the Russian intention to join the war against the Islamic State.

What Israel probably overlooked in all this is that the Russian build-up in Syria has taken place against the backdrop of the massive refugee crisis that is threatening European security. Moscow correctly judged the shift in Europe’s priorities today and in diplomacy timing is always the essence of the matter. In sum, Moscow resorted to coercive diplomacy and its military dimension should not be exaggerated out of proportions.

Thus, Europe is nudging the US and Russia to strengthen the fight against the IS and on a parallel track to work together to kick-start a peace process in Syria. Clearly, the centrality of Russia (and Iran) has been conceded by the West – and openly acknowledged even by the US – in the search for a Syrian settlement.

Over and above, Israel should expect that a US-Iranian dialogue on Syria will commence next week in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session as part of the intensifying efforts to bring about a transition in Syria"


  1. Could it be, that Russia's engagement, could force Israel to change it's land-grabbing policy towards the Palestinians, and actually move towards a two-state solution? And, abandon regime change in Syria? A pipe dream maybe, but, that's what needs to happen...ben. Great article Penny!

    1. Hi ben

      not sure what it could all mean. time will tell as it always does

  2. Two stories, one after the other, appeared on Sputnik the morning after the meeting:
    First, Kerry at a press conference:


    During the press-conference in Washington, Kerry said that the US and Russia agree on how the Syrian conflict should be solved.
    "We are prepared to engage in this [US-Russia] discussion [on Syria] immediately," Kerry said at a press conference.
    Of course, the US propaganda machine must denigrate Assad and Putin even while they make nice. But that aside, they seem to be ready to talk without their former preconditions, which is a step forward for them.
    Second, Petraeus at a political forum:


    On Tuesday, Petraeus spoke to the Armed Services Committee about potential changes to US policy in the Middle East to defeat the Islamic State and otherwise advance US interests in the region.
    Taking out Assad, Petraeus argued, will not require 165,000 troops, "but rather advisors in an ‘enclave’ similar to that of those on the ground in Iraq."
    The US monster has two heads. Both of them speak with forked tongues. MK Bhadrakumar strikes me as someone who believes there is some virtue in the states that carry out "diplomacy". Maybe he is right. However, under the "diplomacy" is a criminal mind for whom law is a weapon to be manufactured and used against one's enemies. And alongside that weapon is the kind that kills people and blows things up.
    After the meeting with Putin, Sputnik quoted the president's press secretary Peskov:
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting in Moscow on Monday.
    "There was talk about a more honest exchange of information, and information coordination between Russia and Israel," Peskov told reporters.
    Peskov is not talking about the need for honesty is being on the part of Russia, you can be sure.
    Russia has declared war on several monsters. This war is for the future of the human race, and the sooner the monsters are defeated, the better. I hope Kerry was speaking to the Petraeus faction as much as to Russia, and telling them that by the time their faction gets access to a weapon (if ever) it will be too late for them and their ISIS-Qaeda-MB psychos to act. That will be one monster gone, and for Russia that means its southern Asian borders are safer, while for the MIddle East it means the prospect of a new beginning after a century of western interference.
    But there is also a NATO monster that does not recognize "diplomacy", neither the German kind nor the Russian kind. I don't see Europe nudging that monster, and I'm not sure I will believe it even if "diplomacy" seems to appear. NATO will be killed only when the western political-financial oligarchy gives up its dream of colonizing Eurasia, and that will be when it loses control of its political-financial tools. I hope and pray for that day, and it could come really quickly given how fast electromagnetic signals travel!

    1. "Taking out Assad, Petraeus argued, will not require 165,000 troops, "but rather advisors in an ‘enclave’ similar to that of those on the ground in Iraq."

      This is a clear reference to employing the kurds , IMO.
      And this situation is already at hand-

      "MK Bhadrakumar strikes me as someone who believes there is some virtue in the states that carry out "diplomacy".

      I find MK B a bit, what would the word be? Naive maybe.
      He talks about the p5+1 agreement as if it matters to Israel or the US
      It doesn't. It's a great show, but, changes nothing on the ground
      As for Israeli diplomacy? Israel's a mad dog. Diplomacy is only useful if Israel gets what it wants out of the diplomacy- Israel is as two face as they come, for a nation state, like the US, neither nation can be trusted or taken at face value

      "This war is for the future of the human race"
      I agree this is a definite facet of what is going on right now and has been going on for sometime

      The NATO monster- big, ugly, costly, siphoning money off of every depraved act imaginable- from drug trafficking, to human and organ trafficking

      electromagnetic signals? or communication of the atoms?

    2. Great comment from D.George. Bhadrakumar is an ex-diplomat so he is going to promote his profession as the way to go. What he leaves out is that Israel and the U.S. never negotiate in good faith and the Russians, who do negotiate in good faith, know full well that diplomacy that is not backed by military might is useless against these people.

      Bhadrakumar says some good things and is usually interesting to read but in amongst the good things there are woven falsehoods which, if you are being kind, you could describe as naivetes.

      Diplomats are purveyors of prevarications and equivocations. It is their stock in trade. They are professional fence-sitters and try not to openly offend anyone as they may find themselves having to deal with these same people again in the future.

      So you don't find Bhadrakumar talking about the fact that the U.S. funds, trains and deploys ISIS against th people and government of Syria. No surprises there. But what is curious in this latest article of his is his linking the Israeli govt with jihadists. Diplomatically, he is throwing the israelis under the bus.

      So it looks to me that Bhadrakumar sees the israeili govt as a spent force - very much 'yesterday's heroes'. There has been a fundamental power shift in the Middle East and it is due to Russia who have finally had enough. While using all diplomatic channels available to them, they are increasing military aid to the Syrian govt, placing their military advisors in the field with the Syrian Army and extending their (Russian) military facilities in Syria (the air base at Latakia) so as to be able to rapidly increase their involvement should the Russian military personnel find themselves under attack from either Isis or NATO. IN chess terms, the Russians are building their defensive position to obviate an attack.

      This is what has got Netanyahoo's AND. Kerry's knickers in a twist and hence the barrage of propaganda from the likes of The Guardian.

    3. "Bhadrakumar says some good things and is usually interesting to read but in amongst the good things there are woven falsehoods which, if you are being kind, you could describe as naivetes."

      Ah, you got my meaning did you? I was being kind because I can't imagine Bhadrakumar isn't more aware.

    4. Exactly right, Pen. And my point is that he proves he knows by identifying the israeli govt as supporting al Nusra/al Qaeda/al Whoever. You can't know that and not know the U.S. is also behind these jihadis. So if he knows that the U.S. supports ISIS, then he knows he's talking nonsense in the rest of his article.

      He continues to be 'diplomatic' when talking of the U.S. but not so with Israel. Therefore, in his view at least, it is no longer necessary to appease israel (the point of diplomacy) which means he thinks israel has lost its power over the U.S.

      This is what I find interesting

  3. I read somewhere today that Hezbollah has pulled back into a defensive mode. Interesting.
    Thanks Penny for posting this.
    DG great comment. Amerika and forked tongue that us for sure.

    1. hey jo
      your welcome :)
      hadn't read that about hez, leave a link if you come across one and thanks in advance if your able

    2. Penny I never found it and it might have been a comment at Ziads. I did a quick search and nothing.

  4. a particularly nasty eg of media propaganda

    1. figures it's the guardian!
      that place is really egregious for spin with a lefty twist
      then there is the righty twist spin also- just different words for different mind sets

  5. a very useful report:
    1.jihadis think they are going to fight the what the media has told them is the evil tyrant Assad.
    2.racism and no concern for minorities.

    3.Syrians that defected, for example, were very upset about the fact that foreign fighters were constantly being given privileges.
    4 'they went in with the expectation that they'd be Rambo.'

    5. ISIS's paranoia about spies, traitors, and defectors has definitely increased. As have reports of people being executed for those reasons.

    1. saw the stories suggesting ISIS was packin' it in and not sure if I believe them
      thanks brian!