Bennett-Israel and Biden-USA: Will Russia cancel the Netanjahu-Putin gentlemen´s agreement for Syria and the Greater Middle East?
After the new 8 parties- coalition government with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett got elected, debates arouse if it is stable and will survive its first term, whether Bennett can replace Natanjahu in terms of popularity, US contacts and in terms of the hard line foreign policy of the Israeli Netanjahu right. However a comment in the Jerusalem Post thinks that Bennett can do this much better than Netanjahu, first because he has a more balanced relation to different layers of US society and doesn´t only rely on the US Evangelicals , hard core US Zionists, AIPAC and Trumpists, never relied so one-sided on Trump and didn´t annoy the liberal US Jews, the Demorats and the US and Israeli Left, even as he is perceived as right to Netanjahu and the LIkud ,but has his own US biography and good knowledge and connections and relations to the USA and allegedly a much more balanced foreign policy. A quite optimistic analysis:
“Bennett more American than Netanyahu as PM? – why it matters
Only three PMs out of 13 have lived in US for extensive periods – Meir, Netanyahu, and Bennett.
By Tovah Lazarott
July 12, 2021 08:56
Can Prime Minister Naftali Bennett become the new face of Israel to the United States, effectively stripping his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu of the unofficial title he has held for almost four decades?
There have been only 13 prime ministers during Israel’s 73-year history.
Only three of them – Golda Meir, Netanyahu and Bennett – had lived in the US for extensive periods, including as children.
Both Meir and Netanyahu graduated from American high schools and received higher level degrees in the US. Meir and Bennett possessed and then relinquished US citizenship. All three had experience working there.
It’s a history that allows for a linguistic and cultural fluency, which gave the trio an immediate advantage when dealing with Israel’s key ally.
Netanyahu, a graduate of MIT, added tremendous oratory skills that made him the county’s most known advocate dating back to the 1980s when he was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, continuing with his stint as prime minister in the 1990s.
It was a skill Netanyahu banked on during his 12-year tenure as premier that ended this year and which he campaigned upon, leaving the impression that his absence would create a deep void in Israeli-US relations – particularly given his strong ties with US politicians, including US President Joe Biden, whom he known for almost four decades.
The mythic vision of Netanyahu is that of a prime minister who can stand firm in defense of Israel’s key existential and policy interests, while at the same time wooing American politicians.
It was a spell made more powerful by Netanyahu’s ability to use the language of American democracy to defend right-wing Israeli policies.
This dance was perceived to be so magical, that no other Israeli leader could be expected to follow.
Initial signs, however, show that Bennett, whose parents hail from the Golden State of California, could outshine Netanyahu in this one specific arena.
During his short time in office, Bennett has already discredited Netanyahu’s warnings that he cannot stand firm against Washington.
Less than a month in office, Bennett has already let the US know he opposes its return to the Iran deal. He has linked the rehabilitation of Gaza with the return of the remains of the two soldiers and the two civilians held hostage there. It’s a stand Netanyahu never made – and one which the Biden administration disapproves of.
Bennett has gone head-to-head with the Biden administration on the issue of home demolition. He knocked down the home of a Palestinian-American terrorist indicted for killing 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta, ignoring a direct US request not to take such a punitive measure.
Bennett didn’t back down from this position, even after the State Department attacked him for it. Over the Biden administration’s objections, he has continued the policy of demolishing illegally built Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank and agreed to legalize the Evyatar outpost.
These West Bank steps are an extension of his predecessor’s policies and in keeping with Bennett’s, which are to the Right of Netanyahu.
BUT BENNETT balanced those negatives with some positives. He was careful to bend in the direction of the Biden administration by taking steps on behalf of regional peace, with a series of gestures to repair Israel’s relationships with Jordan, which had gone cold under Netanyahu.
He agreed to execute two major deals: one to almost double the amount of water Israel sells to the Hashemite kingdom and the other to increase Jordan’s ability to trade with Palestinians in the West Bank by expanding the export limits.
The Biden administration issued an immediate statement of gratitude.
In the last two weeks, Bennett didn’t just show the White House that he would take steps for peace: He also let Biden and the American public know that their history was his history and their values were his values.
Bennett is the first Israeli prime minister to have American parents and a family with US roots that go back more than a century.
When he spoke last week at the US Embassy’s American Independence Day event, he made sure to mention that his family came to California during the Gold Rush.
Nor were his family strangers to 20th century US history. Bennett also dropped the story of how his father Jim was arrested at a civil rights protest, when he attended a sit-in at a California hotel that refused to hire African-Americans. It was a story likely to endear him not just to Biden but also to left-wing Americans, including US Jews. In Israel, he might be on the Right, but in the American sphere, he is one of them.
It wasn’t only that story that painted this picture.
Bennett underscored his value of diversity, noting accurately that his coalition had both Jews and Arabs. Lastly, he emphasized the significance of maintaining bi-partisan support for Israel, indicating that he was a prime minister who wanted to work with all of the American public, not just some of them.
It was the kind of speech that Netanyahu could not have given, nor did he need to, when former US president Donald Trump was in office, when those points were on the back burner.
NETANYAHU’S STRONG ties with Trump yielded enormous results for Israel, particularly the Right. Trump relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the city as Israel’s capital. He legitimized settlement activity and published the peace plan that placed those communities within Israel’s final borders. Under Trump’s tenure, the US scrapped the Iran deal and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in an attempt to halt its drive to produce nuclear weapons.
Most significantly, Trump brokered the Abraham Accords by which four Arab nations agreed to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
These incredible achievements were due in large part to Netanyahu’s diplomatic skills.
They came at the cost, however, of weakening ties between US Jewry and Israel, many of whom felt that Netanyahu had caved in to Trump on the issue of antisemitism on the Right.
The US-Israel bond also frayed, as Israel was increasingly seen as a partisan issue rather than a bi-partisan one, with Trump accusing American Jews who supported the Democratic Party of being disloyal to Israel and the Jewish people.
It was classic Netanyahu not just to dismiss those issues, but to turn the personal chemistry between him and Trump into the larger narrative of how he, and he alone, would be a unique asset to the State of Israel with any US president.
The reality was actually the opposite. Eight of his 12 consecutive years in office – two-thirds – were marked by tensions between him and former US President Barack Obama. Even Israel’s former president Reuven Rivlin, who had never lived in the US, had a better understanding of how to speak with Obama than Netanyahu did.
Netanyahu never swayed Obama to drop his objection to settlement activity or his support for the pre-1967 lines. Nor did he convince him of the dangers of an Iran deal.
There was the time he insulted the US with an announcement of Jewish building in east Jerusalem during a Biden visit to Israel, when he was America’s vice president. Then there was Netanyahu’s appeal to the US Congress to defy the will of President Obama by opposing the Iran deal, an act that made him persona non grata in the White House.
Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency in 2016 instead of Trump, Netanyahu’s track record with respect to the US would have been vastly different, with tensions between the two countries increasing rather than decreasing.
WHEN EVALUATING the effectiveness of an Israeli prime minister against a US president, it’s not just the diplomat skill sets that are needed: Personalities and values also matter.
Netanyahu and Biden’s friendship would, of course, have helped US-Israel ties. In the diplomatic world, however, the two men are an odd couple not unlike the Obama pairing, with divergent goals and values.
Unlike Netanyahu, Bennett is a prime minister with a limited term: almost two years. His success with the US will rise or fall with this Democratic administration, headed by a president for whom human rights and diversity matter.
True, the tension point here with Biden, like it would have been with Netanyahu, will be Bennett’s right-wing stances when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But Netanyahu would have had a hard time navigating them after Trump by re-infusing democracy into the equation.
Bennett, with his background, can sound as American as Netanyahu. His brief speeches have already shown that he understands the significance of democratic discourse and that when it comes to this president, he can speak the same language, even more effectively than Netanyahu.
What’s important here is not just the possibility that Bennett could become the new face of Israel for the American public, but that the tone he knows how to present might diffuse the expected discord, heal some of the partisan rifts and reset the US-Israel relationship at a time when antisemitism in the US is rising.
However as the Biden-USA thinks about reseting the Iran deal, another commentator in n the Jerusalem Post thinks that this won´t happen as after the election of Iranian hard line President Raisi and the pressure from the Republicans and the Israeli Right the conditions of both sides to come to a deal would become much more apart from each other and a solution much more complicated. And while some people speak about a military strike and a war against Iran, Israel, its Mossad and the USA were leading a sustainable cyber and sabotage campaign which could slow down or even prevent Iran going nuclear. Besides these 2 factors a commentator in the Jerusalem Post thinks that there are in total 5 major changes to the Iran standoff.
“Five major changes to the Iran standoff
Put simply, all sides are questioning – for the first time in years – whether a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is known, is their best and only policy
ByYonah Jeremy Bob
July 25, 2021 20:39
Attacks on Natanz (twice), Karaj and Fakhrizadeh fundamentally change Iranian and American perspectives on the Iran deal.
With a flurry of speculation about why the Iran-US-world powers nuclear talks have been stalled now for several months, one issue that has not received enough attention is the extent to which recent attacks (attributed by many to the Mossad) on Iran’s nuclear program have transformed all sides’ perspectives.
Put simply, all sides are questioning – for the first time in years – whether a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is known, is their best and only policy.
As a candidate and US president, Joe Biden’s central policy for confronting issues with Iran has been a return to the JCPOA.
America has also said it would try to add on a longer and stronger deal afterward, but the lynchpin was the JCPOA itself. Washington’s premise for rejoining the deal without prior fixes of loopholes was that there was no way to stop the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon besides that specific diplomatic solution.
One of the reasons this was Biden’s strategy was another premise: Any military action to set back Tehran’s nuclear program would either be too costly in terms of Iranian responses, would flat out fail or would only slow – not stop – the ayatollahs.
But the four (known) attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and officials have hobbled the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program far more than most of the general public realizes. These covert actions have succeeded without a major cost to either Israel or the US. And if there was doubt that more than one attack could succeed, the series of attacks have shown how deeply vulnerable Iran is to sabotage and assassination.
The general public does not know all of this, but the US, Iran and Israel all do.
Biden administration officials are starting to consider whether it might be possible to keep Iran’s nuclear program “in a box” for a very extended period even without the JCPOA.
Israel is making it clear it is still ready to hit Iran more. Might the US even give a green light or at least up the sanctions game if Iran continues to hold out on a return to the JCPOA?
Meanwhile, Iran is immensely embarrassed by the attacks and feels it is negotiating from a far weaker position than it believed it would be in. Without a real imminent threat to hold over the West, why would the West give in to Tehran on any new concessions that it wants?
So playing for time is a new strategy; at some point, the ayatollahs realize the US might lose interest in the JCPOA, so they are also preparing new strategies and approaches.
Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s camp thinks it can get a better deal than current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: The attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities that have busted many premises about fallout from such attacks are only one major reason the picture has changed. Going into April and May, the Rouhani administration was sending all of the signals that a deal was close, and it would be wrapped up, at the latest, with the ascension of Raisi to the presidency.
Most Israeli and US intelligence and academic experts also predicted a deal was inevitable by or before August. Raisi takes power over the coming weeks and in many ways has already taken over the country’s messaging.
But now all of the messaging suggests Raisi thinks he can get a better deal than Rouhani by being more aggressive and appearing more threatening. Despite criticism in Israel of the Biden administration as being soft on Iran, Raisi’s optimism here is likely misplaced.
As much as the Biden team’s discipline in seeking a return to the JCPOA – no matter the new developments – disappointed many in Israel, his team has shown equal discipline is deflecting any attempts by Iran to alter the JCPOA to its own advantage.
The danger here is if Raisi creates unjustified optimism for more concessions from the West and this makes it harder for the Islamic Republic to climb down from its tree. In the better scenario, Raisi will figure out some kind of face-saving public declaration to make while agreeing behind closed doors to rolling back Tehran’s nuclear program later in 2021.
Iran is happy to drag out talks to learn about enriching at the 60% level. It is learning a lot of valuable information about enriching uranium at the 60% level. This is two jumps up from the 5% level it was limited to under the JCPOA and only one jump from the 90% weaponized level for a nuclear bomb.
Nuclear experts had been skeptical about whether Iran could get to this point given its history of failures any time it has tried to jump forward. Whatever it is learning during these months is invaluable experience the West cannot take away, even if there is a later return to the JCPOA’s technical restrictions. This is another reason for the ayatollahs to drag out negotiations.
TEHRAN ALSO does not want to undermine the US withdrawal from Iraq. With the ascension of Raisi to the presidency, Iran might be expected to be even more aggressive than it has been using direct and proxy force against American interests.
It seems that Raisi is holding back for fear that Washington might delay its further withdrawal of military forces from Iraq. The truth is the US only has around 2,500 troops remaining in Iraq, and many of them may remain. But those troops, when combined with air power, pack a punch.
The big anticipated change is that those troops and US air power will no longer be proactively used and will have a smaller military and public footprint. If they only or mostly function in an advisory capacity, Iran may finally have the military upper hand in Iraq. It has shown patience since 2003 to outlast the US. A few more months of patience cannot hurt if the Islamic Republic succeeds at ousting its main rival for influence.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspections are also stuck big time, but they are less relevant, for now. It is shocking that no one – not the US, the EU or even Israel – is threatening Iran with any deadline for restoring IAEA inspections. The inspections expired on May 21.
When confronted by The Jerusalem Post with reports that Tehran is finally even denying the IAEA access to aspects of the Natanz nuclear facility, the IAEA’s clarifications did not address the issue head on.
Being that this started on May 21, responsibility cannot be put on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Rather, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also did not get extra alarmed. Going back to the first point above, the answer appears to be that Iran’s nuclear program is currently so hobbled that – for now – there is less concern about IAEA inspections.
Therefore another commentator thinks that Israel´s real diplomatic test will be Russia. Russia in Syria, Russia in the Greater Middle East and Russian- Iranian relations. Ther article notes that Netanjahu and Putin had in the case of Syra a gentleman agreement that Russia would refrain rom actions against Israel if Isarel was bombing facilities and troops f the Iran Revolutionary Guards and Hisbollah in Syria. However, there would now be signals from Russia which question this gentlemen agreement. Therefore the wquestion is if Russia is only interested to recreate Assad´s souvereignity and that of Syria and put pressure on Israel not to act in Syira, while put pressure on Iran to withdraw. However, the question is, if Assad-Syria is really a souvereign state and if it could survive without Russian and Iranian auxilary and proxy troops. OR if Putin-Russia is making a U-Turn, canceling the gentlemen agreement and deny Isarel air strikes in Syria and team up with Iran-with consequences for israeli and Western air power in the whole Greater Middle East.
“Israel’s real diplomatic test comes from a surprising place: Russia
Moscow wields enormous influence in the Middle East and is parked squarely on Israel’s doorstep in Syria. This presents a test for Israeli diplomacy.
By Herb Keinon
July 26, 2021 07:42Much has been written since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid came to power six weeks ago about how a new government presents a golden opportunity to reset Israel’s relations with some key partners around the world.
First and foremost is the relationship with the US Democratic Party, a relationship that suffered during the 12 years of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule. Then there were the ties with the American progressives and with liberal American Jews.
The signal coming from Jerusalem was that this government was different than the previous one, that it would not confront the Biden administration frontally on Iran, that it was open to trying to build a more productive relationship with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and – for American Jewry – that it was keen on trying to make them feel more positive about and more welcome in Israel.
Bennett and Lapid also moved swiftly to turn a new page in Israel’s relationship with Jordan, with Bennett having already met King Abdullah and Lapid having already visited his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi.
Furthermore, Lapid already went to Brussels to try and reboot ties with the European Union. The perception he tried to convey was that of an Israel that Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen – not only Bucharest, Budapest and Vienna – could feel comfortable with.
A reboot is good when it comes to relations with countries with whom there were points of friction and tension under the previous government. But what about those countries and leaders with whom Netanyahu seemed to have cultivated excellent relations? What happens to ties with those countries under the new government?
The test case in this category is Russia.
Love Russian President Vladimir Putin or hate him, Moscow wields enormous influence in the region and is parked squarely on Israel’s doorstep in Syria, where for the last six years it has propped up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s vicious regime.
Soon after Moscow became directly involved in the fighting in Syria in September 2015 to prevent the loss of its ally Assad, Netanyahu moved to create deconfliction mechanisms that would prevent any direct confrontation between Russian and Israeli forces over Syria.
And, for the most part, this worked. Not only did the two countries create mechanisms to prevent crisis, but they also came to a tacit agreement whereby they both recognized the interests of the other in Syria, and they tried not to harm those interests.
WHAT DID that mean? It meant that Moscow’s main interest was in the survival of Assad, and that Israel – in its military actions in Syria – would refrain from hitting sites or assets that would lead to the toppling of Assad.
And on the flip side it meant that Russia understood that Israel’s vital interest was in preventing Iran and its Hezbollah proxy from entrenching itself on Israel’s border or transferring game-changing weapons through Syria to Lebanon, and that when Israel hit targets related to those aims, Russia would not interfere.
This is why Israel has been able to act with relative impunity in Syrian airspace without the Russians stopping them over the last six years.
Part of this arrangement is attributable to the close relationship that Netanyahu developed with Putin, the leader he met with and spoke with on the phone more often than any other leader during his time in office. This close working relationship also resulted in Putin making clear before each of the last four elections – both in word and in action – that Netanyahu was his preferred candidate.
The counterargument to Netanyahu’s frequent boast about his good ties with Putin and how strategically significant this was for Israel was that relations are between states, not leaders, and that as good as the relationship between Netanyahu and Putin might have been, it was really about interests. According to this line of reasoning, no matter who leads Israel, it is in the interest of both countries to cooperate regarding Syria.
If recent reports are to be believed, this premise will now be put to the test, as the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat cited a Russian official saying that Moscow has “run out of patience” with Israeli action in Syria and would supply Assad with better air-defense systems. Last week, a senior Russian security official was quoted as saying that Syrian air defense had shot down seven of eight missiles launched by Israel toward targets in Syria.
If all or even some of that is true, it is a significant development that may force Jerusalem to rethink its Syria policy and how to keep the Iranians from entrenching there. This will test Bennett and Lapid’s argument that anything Netanyahu can do, they can do better, and that relationships are between countries, not leaders.
Reinstating the modus operandi that existed over the last six years with Russia in Syria needs now to be a major foreign-policy aim of this government – no less than improving ties with the Democratic Party or the EU – and is a major diplomatic test this government is now facing.
ANOTHER CRISIS is shaping up over the Pegasus software from Israeli firm NSO that is at the center of a storm: The terrorist-tracking software was allegedly used by some governments to hack into the phones of human-rights activists, journalists and politicians.
One of those politicians was French President Emmanuel Macron, who called Bennett about the matter over the weekend to discuss it with him and make sure, according to various reports, that Israel was looking into it and taking it seriously.
Numerous questions are being asked regarding the export licenses provided to the firm, enabling it to export the powerful spyware. Bennett, according to Channel 12, said the issue was being investigated, the necessary conclusions would be drawn and that the events under question took place before his government took power.
Unlike the situation with Russia, where no Israeli politician had a better relationship with Putin than Netanyahu, with Macron, it is Lapid who has developed a good personal relationship.
This was evident in April 2019, before the first of Israel’s recent four-election cycles, when Macron invited Lapid to France just four days before the election in a move widely viewed as a way to counterbalance the pre-election gestures that both Putin and US president Donald Trump showered on Netanyahu.
With France, it is Lapid who has a personal relationship with the country’s leader that could help soften something that has the potential of ballooning into a full-blown crisis.
A potentially game-changing situation with Russia in Syria, as well as how the government deals with the NSO scandal, will be good early indicators of how Bennett and Lapid – just six weeks in power – stack up against Netanyahu in being able to navigate through choppy international waters
Another article asks the same questions around Russian warnings that Israel should restrain itself from further air strikes against Syria. And whether Russia just aims at Israeli airstrikes in Syria or in the whole Greater Middle East region and also against Iran as Putin-Russia also wants to deliver S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems to Syria, Turkey and Iran and even warn Israel by itself.
“Will Russia try to close Syrian airspace to further Israeli airstrikes?
Is Russia sending a message to Israel or to the US, or is someone else trying to create controversy? What is the goal of Iran here – or the Syrian regime or other regional powers?
By Seth J. Frantzmann
July 25, 2021 16:17
Russia could be moving to pressure Israel to stop airstrikes in Syria. Reports began to surface this weekend, beginning with an article at London-based Asharq al-Awsat that cited a “well-informed” Russian source.
The report was carried in Turkey and other media in the region with interest. According to these reports, Russia might even strengthen the Syrian regime’s air defenses.
What do the reports say? The Russian source hinted at the possibility of “closing Syrian airspace” to Israeli planes, Asharq al-Awsat reported. This comes in response to allegations that Israel has “intensified their raids in the past two days against Iranian and Hezbollah sites in northern and central Syria.”
Russia released two statements in the wake of a raid “targeting a research center in the countryside of Aleppo, and the other on a site for Iranian forces to be stationed in Al-Qusayr, near Homs,” the report said.
“This is directly related to the talks that were launched with the United States following the first summit that brought together presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden last month,” the Russian source told the Arabic website, adding that “Moscow was calculating its reactions in the past because Tel Aviv [Jerusalem] is coordinating all its movements with Washington, while the Russian communication channels with Washington were cut off, and it appeared, from the current contacts with the American side, that Moscow obtained confirmation that Washington does not welcome the continuous Israeli raids.”
The report highlights a complex puzzle. “The Israelis felt that the air defenses in Syria had been activated, and the fact that practically all the launched missiles had been destroyed, indicates a fundamental change in the mechanisms for dealing with this file and that Israel’s aviation has not since entered the Syrian airspace and is carrying out attacks from the ground,” the report said. Russia supposedly provided the Syrian regime with “modern air defense.”
The source went on to claim that Russia’s demands might involve closing off “all possible targets” inside Syria. The author notes that in the past, Moscow did not object to attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. It has “run out of patience,” the article said, but then also quoted the Russians as saying they are actually not impatient. This hints that high-level talks with the US have some impact on the issue of staying silent about Israeli airstrikes.
But it is not clear from the article what is really going on. Why Moscow would reveal to a newspaper that it heard the US does not “welcome the continuous Israeli raids” is curious.
This “impression left space for Russia to act more freely in supporting Assad forces in Syria with more advanced anti-missile systems and know-how, to make them more capable of shooting down Israeli armaments,” the report said.
A Turkish media said: “Israel has been targeting Iran-linked military targets in the war-torn country’s regime-held areas with airstrikes without entirely acknowledging doing so. The Israeli strikes have also been repeatedly criticized by the Syrian regime ally Russia.”
Meanwhile, reports said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had asked Israel to provide Russia with information on any Iranian threats in Syria so that it could deal with them.
“If Israel is really forced to respond to threats to Israeli security coming from the Syrian territory, we have told our Israeli colleagues many times: If you see such threats, please give us the information,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russia’s Sputnik media.
Add to this a third detail noting that airstrikes carried out earlier this year “were carried out with intelligence provided by the US, a senior American intelligence official told the Associated Press.”
This leaves many questions: Is Russia sending a message to Israel or to the US, or is someone else trying to create controversy between Russia and Israel? What is the goal of Iran here – or the Syrian regime or other powers in the region?
It is known that Gulf countries, as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, likely want the Syrian regime to be stabilized and stronger so that it can rejoin the network of Arab states in the region, after having been kept out in the cold since 2011’s Arab Spring.
In short, there are many interested parties eager to see Syria return as a normalized state, and thus the free-for-all of airstrikes by various countries in the beleaguered country may end. This would include a desire to see the US and Israel reduce airstrikes and also have Turkey stop destabilizing northern Syria.
It would also likely mean wanting Iran to stop its entrenchment. Tehran may have reduced forces in Syria slightly in recent years. However, Iran has a network of facilities, such as Imam Ali base near the Iraqi border and the T-4 base. It also backs militias, and Hezbollah has been operating freely in Syria.
THE OTHER interesting messaging here relates to Moscow’s apparent view that the US also may be shifting its views on the airstrikes. It was widely reported in January that the US was backing Israeli airstrikes in Syria. The reports that the US wanted to work more closely with Israel in Syria date from the period of former US president Donald Trump’s administration and were tied to key figures in the administration who appeared to approve of Israel’s policies in Syria, including Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and US envoy James Jeffrey.
The key here is that Washington believed Israel’s “war between wars” campaign was designed to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria and weapons trafficking to Hezbollah, and it was important for US policy. In years past, it was reported that Iran moved ballistic missiles to pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and drones to Syria that threaten Israel and that it sought to move precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah. Iran also tried to move the 3rd Khordad air-defense system to Syria in April 2018.
There have been tensions before. Syria shot down a Russian military plane in September 2018, mistaking it for an Israeli jet. This angered Moscow, and Jerusalem sent officials to discuss the crisis. Russia at the time hinted it would send Syria the S-300 air-defense system.
There were also reports at the time that Russia would try to keep Iranian forces away from the Golan Heights as the Syrian regime retook areas nearby. Hezbollah did set up sites near the Golan and sought to launch drones against Israel in August 2019.
The tensions with Syria have also led to other incidents, such as errant Syrian air-defense missiles being fired wildly. One landed in the Negev in April, and in 2017, Syria fired an S-200 at Israeli planes that flew over Jordan.
In November 2019, Moscow revealed alleged Israeli airstrikes, claiming Israel flew over Jordan during a strike on Syria. In January 2019 and February 2020, Russia also expressed concern to Israel about airstrikes in Syria.
In light of all this, the reports on July 24 about Russian views on Israeli airstrikes in Syria could either reflect a policy change or more of the same rhetoric as in the past. It could also be messaging to the US and Iran.
Pro-Iranian militias are increasingly operating in Syria and acquiring land and basing. A member of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a unit of Afghan Shi’ite fighters that works with Iran in Syria, was reportedly killed in recent airstrikes, according to Al-Hadath. Iran has been relatively quiet about this, but pro-Iranian militias in Iraq have been upping threats to the US and its forces in Iraq and Syria.
This could all be tied together. In the past, pro-Iranian militias in Iraq have accused Israel of airstrikes, illustrating that the issue of airstrikes in Syria or the “war between wars” campaign is not just about Iran’s role in Syria, but rather Iran’s role in the wider region, too.
Another signal from Putin-Russia which is annoying Israel is the participation of an Iranian military ship alongside the Russian navy at a military parade in St. Petersburg:
“Iran’s ship Sahand will arrive in Russia for military parade
Two Iranian ships, the Sahand and Makran have been on an epic voyage since late May.
By Seth J. Frantzmann
July 24, 2021 17:25
Iran’s Fars News reports that an Iranian ship called the Sahand, which has been on a journey of over 12,000 nautical miles, will arrive in Russia’s port of St. Petersburg for a unique visit.
The ship may take part in a naval parade and the head of Iran’s navy Hossein Khanzadi is travelling to Russia for the special arrival of the ship.
The Sahand and an accompanying vessel, the Makran, have been on an epic voyage since late May. They passed around southern Africa in June and many assumed they might go to the Caribbean where Iran has friends in Venezuela and Cuba.
However, they then pivoted toward the UK, passing Denmark to enter the Baltic Sea. Now reports say that they are arriving in Russia and that the Iranian naval chief will travel to Russia at the official invitation of Russia’s defense minister. Russian media hasn’t reported as much about this, but Iran’s Fars has reported it.
According to this report, the native Iranian destroyer Sahand has already arrived in the Russian port of St. Petersburg and is scheduled to participate in the ceremony as a representative of the navy alongside the Russian fleet, Fars News says.
The Makran, which has supported the Sahand destroyer in this long journey, will stop at the beginning of the Volga Canal due to the limitations of the naval parade site, including the shallow depth and size of this floating unit, Iran’s media says.
“It is worth mentioning that the big naval parade of the Russian Navy will start tomorrow on the occasion of the anniversary of the formation of this force, and representatives of some countries will also be present.”
Sending its ships so far is extraordinary and an important symbol for Iran whose navy has been neglected over the years and has seen many accidents and failures.
USNI News, which covers naval issues, noted this weekend that “Iran’s largest warship is now in the Baltic Sea – a first for the Iranian Navy – according to photos from ship spotters provided to USNI News. Oil-tanker-turned-warship IRINS Makran transited the Great Belt early Thursday morning entering the Baltic Sea under escort by Royal Danish Navy patrol vessels.” The Great Belt is defined as the largest of the three Danish Straits that connect the Baltic Sea to the Kattegat strait and Atlantic Ocean.
Many online commentators have taken an interest in following the progress of the ships and gathering details on sightings of the ships, as they passed through the English Channel last week. It is unclear where the ships will go next, or if they will take on supplies in Russia or even need repairs, as the vessels have begun rusting during the long voyage.
However, the commentator of the Jerusalem Post is making jokes about the importance of a rusty Iranian vessel that had a very long and Odysee voyage and has to be happy to survive the epic voyage. More a symbolic act than militarilly really impressing. While the air power and the cyberpower is more interesting for Israel, the Iranian vessel at the Russian military parade is not perceived as a real sea power, if Russia in future will not patrouling the Persian Gulf, the Mediterian Sea and the Sea of Aden and the Suez Channelwith China . Till now it is not clear if Putin wants to test the new Israeli goverment as he did before the Putin-Biden meeting when deploying massive troops at the border of Ukraine. As Putin wrote now a historic propagdanda article about Ukrainian and Russian people being a whole people together which most commentators in the West perceive as war threat, Israel has to wait if the new Russian signals are just a little bit sabber rattling and show to come to a new deal with Russia or if Russia is shifting its Middle East policy beyond the Putin-Netanjahu gentlemen agreement and teaming up with Iran and China.