Henry Kissinger once said that foreign policy is about interests, but this is only valid in times of relative peace. In the middle east we are now seeing two forces testing whether the threat by the established powers, Israel and the U.S. is real. Russia is trying to play the puppet master, while Turkey and Iran are trying to regain long gone greatness. But at least Israel is patiently pointing to red lines and it seems as if Israel’s patience is running out.
The Syrian civil war is over and during the recent years Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited his colleague Vladimir Putin in Moscow frequently, trying
- to make arrangements that would avoid confrontation between Israeli and Russian forces,
- to influence the post-war order
- to outline the limits Israel would be willing to tolerate
The most recent meeting between Netanyahu and Putin was different. Netanyahu was not asking Putin for support for in his positions, he was not trying to find arrangements with Russia, but he was making clear that Syria and Hezballah were heading towards a confrontation with Israel and that Israel would not shy away it.
Netanyahu feels in a strong position, as he will probably get support from Israel’s ally, the USA and Putin couldn’t care less, because here he can see what his real adversary, the U.S. is able deploy on the battlefield and how these weapons, tactics and strategies would unfold. Putin can’t loose. He just can’t. Russia will keep its base in Tartus (Syria) under almost all circumstances and Bashar al-Assad will never regain full control over Syria. He will always only be a ruler on call-off position. Nobody steps in, when Turkey takes a bite from Syria. Only Russia is between Iran and the Mediterranean coast and Russia is unlikely to accept an Iranian naval base in its neighborhood. No, Putin will not sink that deep!
But there is a side goal and that is Israel. It’s not about Israel herself but about a statement of power. For Israel, Iran will be a hard piece to chew on, if Iran chooses to confront Israel and it appears that the clerics in Qom have chosen to try. Israel has no other choice but to confront Iran and Hezballah as early as possible. To my judgment, Israel already has been hesitating for too long, but the reason for this was the Obama administration, which did everything to keep Israel from defending her positions.
This has changed and Israel has now a strong backing from the U.S. again. This time Netanyahu didn’t travel as foreign minister but as prime minister. The signs are on the wall and the security cabinet has read them. A decision is imminent and it’s a sign of respect that Putin and Netanyahu speak. Not only a sign of respect from Netanyahu but also from Putin. No other prime minister has visited Putin more frequently over the past few years than Netanyahu and Putin always received him. Russia is not the mischief in the region, but it appears it supports and uses the mischiefs, lets things play out and try to gain its advantage from it.
This time there won’t be a Russian advantage. If Russian weapons come into play there is the immediate danger that these weapons will be beaten and this would hit Russia’s most important industry hard.