Archive for the ‘Putin and Israel’ category

PUTIN TO ISRAEL, U.S.: LOOSEN SANCTIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR IRAN LEAVING SYRIA

November 21, 2018

“We are continuing our conversations in order to reach a political solution in Syria.”

BY MAARIV ONLINE NOVEMBER 20, 2018 Jerusalem Post

Source Link: PUTIN TO ISRAEL, U.S.: LOOSEN SANCTIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR IRAN LEAVING SYRIA

{Two observations…one, Iran is clearly Russia’s pawn and, two, the sanctions must really be biting. – LS}

Russia offered Israel and the United States a deal involving Iran’s withdrawal of its forces from Syria in exchange for a reduction in American sanctions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a closed session of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security Committee Monday, Channel 10 News reported. The offer was made by Russian President Putin, according to an MK who was present at the meeting.

Netanyahu met Putin in Paris last week during the ceremonies marking the centenial of the armistice that ended the first World War, but it is unclear if Putin made the offer then. After the meeting, Netanyahu said that “the conversation with Putin was good, productive and very important. There is no point in going into further details.”

MKs said that Netanyahu said at the meeting that the Russians and Americans are in discussions on containing the Iranian influence in Syria, and held their last meeting on the issue on November 8 in Vienna.

According to the report, at the beginning of the month Netayahu met with the American envoy to Syria, Jim Jeffery, and discussed the matter with him. Netanyahu was asked by the Knesset members if Israel expressed its stance on the proposal, and he answered that at this stage there is no official Israeli position.

“We are continuing our conversations in order to reach a political solution in Syria,” a senior US State Department official told Channel 10. “We will not go into detail on the content of those diplomatic conversations.”

Vladimir Putin Is Laying a Bomb on Israel’s Doorstep

July 16, 2018


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. July 11, 2018Office of the Russian president

Shlomo Bolts Jul 15, 2018 12:39 PM Haaretz

Source Link: Vladimir Putin Is Laying a Bomb on Israel’s Doorstep

{Maybe, just maybe…and I’m going out on a limb here…Putin is no friend of Israel. – LS}

In September 1999, residents of an apartment building in the Russian city of Razyan came home to bags of explosives rigged to detonate in their basement. They hastened to call authorities, who confirmed the threat, defused the bomb, and arrested the perpetrators.

The next day, the perpetrators were released – according to some reports, they were Russian intelligence agents. The government declared that there had been no bomb and that it was all a drill.

Residents of the apartment were skeptical, but as one resident later told the LA Times, “The general opinion is that we’d better not challenge them or they will really blow us up.”

Indeed, many Russians who challenged the state narrative regarding this incident went on to die suspicious deaths.

Yet one Russian in particular benefitted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently met him at the World Cup to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria, and came out proclaiming that Russia had pushed Iranian proxies “tens of kilometers” from Israel’s border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, then the Russian intelligence chief, blamed Chechen terrorists for the Razyan incident – and for a series of actual bombings of Russian apartment buildings earlier that month that killed nearly 300 people – and went to war with the separatist region of Chechnya the next day. Putin used his role in that war to paint himself as a security hawk, win the Russian presidency, and steer Russia toward authoritarianism. As Russian influence operations on social media gain global notoriety, Israel would be wise to recall this older and more low-tech form of information warfare in Putin’s playbook.

It’s a fundamental paradox: How could the Razyan hotel incident simultaneously have been a harmless drill, and the last straw before a wide offensive on the Chechen capital? Putin made both claims; one must be a lie.

If we examine Russian actions near Israel’s border today, we confront the same paradox at the heart of Netanyahu’s Syria policy: How could Russia simultaneously be the main agent of Iranian expansion, and an Israeli ally in pushing Iran back?


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, outside Moscow. July 12, 2018Alexei Druzhinin/AP

Both cannot be true. One is a lie.

Netanyahu does not have long to reveal the truth. The Syrian regime is in the midst of a devastating offensive on opposition forces in southern Syria, which borders Israel. Over 250 civilians have been killed in the offensive, which includes Russian airpower and Iran-backed militia fighters. Current reports indicate an exodus of tens of thousands of civilians fleeing toward Israel’s border.

And as Haaretz analyst Zvi Bar’el has rightly noted, “Israel is considered the party that gave the green light for the entry of Assad forces into southern Syria…based on a Russian commitment to remove Iranian forces.”

Given Netanyahu’s strong focus on containing Iran, the Russian commitment is key. Israel does not want Iranian proxy militias near its border, especially since many of them have declared their intentions to target Israel. Yet Russia is facilitating exactly that.

Many international observers underestimate the extent of Iranian involvement in the regime’s current offensive, perhaps due to Russian pronouncements that Iran must withdraw from the area, or due to multiple feigned Iranian withdrawals that turned out to be ruses.

In fact, the Iranian proxy Liwa al-Zulfikar was integral to the storming of Busr al-Harir, the first major town to fall to pro-regime forces in the current offensive, as Russian warplanes bombed from above. An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander was recently reported killed in Deir al-Adas, a northern gateway to the Golan Heights. Similarly, the Iranian proxy group “Abu Fadel al-Abbas” recently appeared in the frontline town of Da’el under 30km from Israel.

Da’el activists shared a photograph earlier this month of Abu Fadel al-Abbas leader “Abu Ajeeb” speaking with a Russian general. I queried former residents of Da’el on the photograph, and they traced its precise location to the Martyr Fayz al-Jamous school in northwest Da’el – a plausible site given current battle lines, and a site that aligns with imagery analysis of the photograph. The Assad regime hasn’t controlled Da’el until this month, so the photograph must have been quite recent.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is hardly distancing Iran from the Israeli border. If anything, Iran and Russia are collaborating as closely as ever. But this is the same treacherous double game that Putin played in Razyan nearly 20 years ago.

Just as the same foiled apartment bombing cannot be both a routine intelligence drill and a provocation to war, we know that Russia can’t be Iran’s air cover for advances toward Israel and an Israeli ally against Iran at the same time. Furthermore, Putin likely knows that we know; the same day the aformentioned photo was released, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly backtracked on his stance that “all foreign forces” – including Iranian proxies – must leave Syria.

But Putin’s goal is not factual accuracy or consistency. It is to plant the proverbial bomb on Israel’s doorstep: to present Israel with a mortal threat, make it clear that he is doing so, and leave just enough deniability that Israel chooses to pretend he is an ally rather than confront him for the threat he created.

This mode of information warfare relies on the target audience’s fear of confronting Putin. He wants Israel to say, as residents of a Russian apartment once said, “We’d better not challenge them or they will really blow us up.”

Unfortunately, it appears Netanyahu has fallen into the trap. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared on May 30 that all Iranian proxies must withdraw; Hezbollah attacked a gateway town to the Golan Heights as recently as July 9; Netanyahu nonetheless declared, mere hours later, that Iranian proxies had withdrawn “tens of kilometers” from Israel’s border. In short, Netanyahu endorsed Putin’s lie.

There’s no logical reason for Netanyahu to believe that Putin’s promises in Moscow last week will be implemented, when Lavrov’s promises six weeks ago were blatantly flouted, especially now that Russia and Iran have increased their leverage by decimating much of southwest Syria. Israel must realize that if it stays silent now, Iranian proxies are bound to reach Israel’s border eventually.

Yet Israel doesn’t have to follow this sordid script. President Donald Trump has evinced a firm desire to support Israel, and initiatives to sanction Iranian proxies in the U.S. Congress have earned bipartisan backing. Israel would increase U.S. support against Putin’s deception by demanding that the Assad regime alliance expand no further.

Netanyahu should call off his agreement with Putin – Putin did not honor its terms anyway – and call for U.S. support to defend the remnants of opposition to the Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria.

Israel can meet the S-300 challenge

April 27, 2018

By Oded Granot April 26, 2018 Israel Hayom

Source Link: Israel can meet the S-300 challenge

{My bet is these systems have already been compromised. – LS}

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to the recent U.S.-led strike on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenal was delivered Wednesday in the form of a laconic statement by Moscow’s Defense Ministry, saying that Russia will “soon” provide Syria with its advanced S-300 missile defense system.

The Russian statement was expected and was very much a part of the cold war now waged between Washington and Moscow, aggravated by the April 14 strike. While it is doubtful that the barrage of Tomahawk missiles fired on Syria would deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, the strike was an affront to Putin. It illustrated him as unable to defend his ally, Assad, from the West and dented his international prestige.

This may appear as yet another time in which the U.S. and Russia lock horns. But the delivery of advanced missile defense systems to Syria is also likely to pose an issue for the Israeli Air Force with respect to maintaining Israel’s stated red lines in Syria, namely preventing Iran from entrenching itself militarily there and preventing the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The concerns are justified, but three points must be made regarding this defense system:

  1. Russia may have said it would supply Assad with S-300 missiles, but it has yet to do so and Moscow officials on Wednesday strongly denied Syria’s assertion that it was already in possession of these missiles.
  2. The S-300 is an effective anti-aircraft defense system but it is, to a large extent, outdated and Russia has ceased its production about two years ago. The last system of this type was supplied to the Iranians, and Assad stands to receive either the batteries the Russians already have in Syria or ones decommissioned by the Russian military.
  3. According to foreign reports, and despite the potential restrictions on the IAF’s operational freedom in Syria, the IAF already has an operational response to S-300 missiles – if and when Israel may need to mount one.

The crux of the matter here has less to do with the anti-aircraft missile system and more to do with the system of understandings between Israel and Russia. While Russia has warned Israel against targeting S-300 batteries, Israel asserted that it would not hesitate to do so if it was used against its forces. Public rhetoric aside, the two countries have maintained effective communications that have already proved they can eliminate danger.

However, the pace of regional events over the past few weeks has accelerated so rapidly that the winds may change at any minute. U.S. President Donald Trump decision on the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is looming and come May 12, if the U.S. exits the accord, an attempt by Iran to retaliate on the April 9 strike on the T4 air base in Homs or another Israeli mission to stop weapons shipments to Hezbollah could prompt a security escalation that no one wants.

 

Is a thick gaseous cloud hiding Russia’s first S-300 delivery to Syria?

April 19, 2018

Debka April 19, 2018

Source Link: Is a thick gaseous cloud hiding Russia’s first S-300 delivery to Syria?

{We’ll know for sure once they are deployed. – LS}

As Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary, a Russian ship unloaded a suspect military cargo from a freighter at the Syrian port of Tartous. Was Moscow answering Israel’s celebration by delivering advanced S-300 air defense missiles as a show of support for Bashar Assad?

This not confirmed. However, DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Russians undoubtedly took advantage of Israel’s preoccupation with its Independence Day revelries to deliver advanced weapons systems for the Syrian army. The Russian ship docked in Tartous on Wednesday afternoon, April 18. Before unloading it, they positioned in the Russian section of the port giant compressors which spewed thick gaseous clouds over the operation to hide it from oversight by Israel’s surveillance planes, drones and satellites. This tactic intensified Israel’s suspicion that the cargo included S-300 weapons systems.

On Tuesday, April 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had refused Syria’s demand for the advanced S-300 missiles, but since the “appalling act of aggression” committed by the US, France and Britain, “Moscow was ready to consider any means to help the Syrian army curb further aggression.”

According to our military sources, the Russian vessel was sighted crossing through the Bosporus near Istanbul on Monday, i.e., just two days after the Western strike on Syria’s chemical sites. No attempt was made to conceal the presence on its decks of military equipment, which looked like the command vehicles of missile batteries and radar apparatus. The ship was loaded at the Russian military port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.

 

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel

March 19, 2017

Hizballah’s trust in Russia – strategic dilemma for Israel, DEBKAfile, March 18, 2017

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

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Israel finally took a hand in the swiftly moving events looming from Syria over its northern borders by launching multiple air raids against the key northern Syrian air base known as T4 near Palmyra early Friday night March 17.

Those events are spearheaded by the pro-Iranian Hizballlah’s drive to capture the Golan in line with its war of “resistance” on the Jewish state.  This fixation came into sharp focus the day after the air strike in a rare admission by Hizballah of the loss of a commander. He was named Badee Hamiyeh and was described as having been killed “in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.”  This was the first anyone had heard of any recent battle on the Golan.

A week earlier, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and IDF Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Hertzl Halevi showed President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin maps depicting the various military movements ongoing in Syria, with the accent on an armored convoy of several hundred Hizballah troops driving out of their Syrian stronghold of Zabadani towards Mt. Hermon. The convoy was clearing a path by overrunning some 30 Syrian rebel villages on the Hermon slopes, which command the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra and the Israeli border.

This evidence demonstrated that Hizballah had developed a single military stratagem for threatening Israel-held Hermon, ruling central Golan and gearing up for battle to restore the entire Golan area to Syrian sovereignty under Hizballah control.

Netanyahu had hoped that Putin would agree to stop the Hizballah convoy and keep his promise not to let Iran and Hizballah deploy on the Israeli border. However, the Russian leader was unresponsive. Not only were Russian commanders in Syria not instructed to restrain Hizballah, they acted to persuade Syrian rebels on the Hermon and the Golan to surrender to he Lebanese Shiite invaders.

And indeed, as the Hizballah advance continued. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah contrived an equation to justify his assault on the Golan. “They brought ISIS to the Beqaa [Hizballah’s Lebanese stronghold] and so the ‘resistance’ [Hizballah] went to Syria. They wanted this group to reach Beirut, and so, today, we are in Golan.”

Seeing Hizballah on the move unchecked and gearing up for an expeced showdown with Israel, Netanyahu and the IDF decided to take matters in their own hands. They ordered several air force strikes Friday on the relatively remote strategic T4 air base near Palmyra in northeastern Syria and hit several birds with one stone.

DEBKAfile’s military sources describe T4 as the main terminal for Iranian planes to land day by day and unload  war materials for their own forces as well as the Syrian army and Hizballah.This air base also houses Russian attack helicopters and special operations troops, whose presence there was trusted by Tehran and Nasrallah to be an effective shield against Israeli attack.

The IAF air strike Friday proved them wrong.

These developments were the subtext of the video statement by Netanyahu that was broadcast Friday night by Israeli media: “I can assure you that our resolve is firm, as attested to by our actions,” he said. “This is something that everyone should take into account, everyone!.” When he said, “everyone,” he was not just addressing Tehran and Beirut, but Moscow as well.

Israel is not planning action against Russian forces in Syria, but if the Russian army, whether deliberately or unintentionally, grants Iran and Hizballaha military protection, as they counted on having at T4, Israel would not hesitate to disabuse them.

The Kremlin got the message and, a few hours after the Israeli air strikes, Israeli Ambassador Cary Koren was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. There was no official protest, but Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov firmly informed the ambassador that Moscow would not tolerate any further Israeli attacks on Syrian bases where Russian forces were present.

In the course of the raid, Israel’s advanced anti-missile Arrow system made its first operational appearance. IDF chiefs feared that the Syrian anti-air missiles fired against the Israeli jets might fall on a populated location inside Israel and so decided it was necessary to intercept any incoming projectiles.

Israel’s military experts got into an argument, which will no doubt go on for years, over whether Arrow’s first appearance in this situation was a good or a bad move. However, the deafening bang that the IDF wonder weapon inflicted on millions of Israeli ears, within a radius of more than a 150 kilometers from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean, offered an inkling of how much worse it will be in a full-scale conflict.

Israel’s inaction in Syria may open Golan to Iran

February 7, 2017

Israel’s inaction in Syria may open Golan to Iran, DEBKAfile, February 6, 2017

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given “diplomatic priority” to stressing the perils posed by Iranian-sponsored terrorism and its nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, and placed them at the top of his talks with British premier Theresa May in London Monday, Feb. 6, and with President Donald Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.

But it stands to reason that their national security and intelligence experts have advised the US president and the British premier that Netanyahu has been firmly advised up to the present day to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict by the IDF high command and his past and present defense ministers, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon.

Israel therefore stands to be excluded from the practical deliberations ongoing for Syria’s future. Jordan in contrast has stepped forward as the key Middle East player in the pacts and military understandings shaping up between the US, Russia and Turkey for throwing Iran out of Syria.

Jordan’s King Abdullah swallowed his pride and took the initiative of flying to Washington last Thursday, Feb. 2, to buttonhole President Trump. From their brief conversation, he became the first Middle East ruler to win a green light from the US for an air strike against the ISIS ally, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army, which occupies the triangle formed by the Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli borders. Israel has never attacked this force in the five years since it moved into that part of southern Syria.

DEBKAfile”s military and intelligence sources disclose that Abdullah informed Trump that the air strike would take place under the supervision of the US, Russian and Syrian commands, making it the first instance of US-Russian support for a Middle East army’s action against ISIS in Syria.

And so, on Saturday, Feb. 4, six Royal Jordanian Air Force F-15 fighters and five drones bombed seven Khalid Ibn al-Walid positions. This air strike most probably heralded more bombardments to come. Jordanian commando units are also likely to mount raids, in concert with the Syrian rebel militias they have trained, to seize the ground occupied by ISIS’ offshoot.

And on the diplomatic front, the US President authorized Jordan’s attendance at the Syrian peace talks that are ongoing under Russian sponsorship at the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Jordanian delegation was deputized to act on America’s behalf to monitor the process for determining the future of Syria.

This move came a week after the British prime minister was urged by Trump to fly straight to Ankara after their talks in Washington in search of a military collaboration deal for Syria between the UK and Turkey.

The onset of Jordan’s military action in Syria has pumped up to seven the number of foreign armies involved in that country’s conflict: Russia, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, pro-Iranian Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Lebanese Hizballah, US forces, the Turkish Army and now Jordan.

Synchronously with the Jordanian air strike in southern Syria, President Bashar Assad announced that its launch makes it possible for Syrian civilians who fled from the Islamists to start returning to their homes, starting with the Quneitra region of the Syrian Golan. He was talking about 30,000 refugees.

It is obvious to anyone familiar with the Syrian scene that this population shift is an open invitation for thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members and Hizballah terrorists to take the opportunity of stealing into the Golan, in the guise of returning refugees.

Israel, aside from providing an intelligence service on Syria to coalition forces, finds itself left out of any say in the currently evolving peace process. While ISIS may be rooted out of this border area at some point, the Netanyahu government’s military inaction risks exposing the Golan to another attempted incursion by Iranian and Hizballah forces by covert means.

The diplomatic prioritization of the Iranian threat, coupled with talks with US president Trump and deals with Russian President Putin, amount to a policy that has gone bankrupt for Netanyahu and his security chiefs. The powers who will determine what happens next in Syria are bound by military cooperation and action. Because Netanyahu’s rhetoric about the perils posed by Iran is not backed by military action, Israel has no influence on coming events, and faces the very real risk of being faced with an Iranian presence on its northern doorstep.

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security

January 28, 2017

Trump-Putin deal on Syria bears on Israel security, DEBKAfile, January 28, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO *** Local Caption *** ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ???? ????

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks through binoculars during his visit in the Northern district border of Israel on August 18, 2015. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

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It would be a mistake to take it for granted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s talks with President Donald Trump in Washington early next month will be plain sailing or produce an automatic shower of benefits for the Jewish state. It is understood in Jerusalem that a new order is unfolding close to Israel’s borders, which is not yet fully in the sights of its government, military and intelligence leaders. This process is going forward at dizzying speed in Syria, currently the central Middle East arena, where Presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to cooperate.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May picked up fast on the new power equation. After standing before the media with the US President Friday, Jan. 27, and declaring hopefully, “Britain and the US can once again lead the world together,” she decided to fly straight from Washington to Ankara Saturday, before returning home.

The outcome of her first meeting with President Erdogan was one of the fastest defense collaboration pacts ever negotiated for trade and the war on terror. The British leader lost no time in getting down to brass tacks on how British military and intelligence can be integrated in the joint US-Russian-Turkish military steps for Syria. Erdogan did not exactly receive her with open arms. He did not afford his visitor the courtesy of placing a British flag in the reception room in his palace.

Israel is in much the same position. Israel stayed out of military involvement in the Syrian civil war, according to a policy led by Netanyahu, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi (then Direct of Military Intelligence). This policy has left Israel out of today’s decision-making loop on Syria’s future.

Towards the end of 2015, shortly after Russia embarked on its massive military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Netanyahu took steps for safeguarding Israel’s security interests by setting up a direct line with the Russian president. It was translated into a military coordination mechanism between the Russian air force command in Syria and the Israeli air force, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff, in charge of this direct military link.

Any problems that could not be solved at the military level were promptly turned over to be addressed at meetings or in phone calls between Netanyahu and Putin.

In one example, the prime minister obtained an undertaking from the Russian president to keep Iranian forces and Iran’s Shiite surrogates, including the Lebanese Hizballah, away from the Syrian-Israeli border, or allow them to use borderlands to send terrorists into Israel.

Shortly after Trump’s election victory (Nov. 8, 2016), the spadework on his collaboration with Putin was quietly begun by their national security advisers, Michael Flynn, in New York and Nikiolai Platonovich Patrushev in Moscow.

Jerusalem knew what was going on, but was taken aback by the speed at which those close understandings ripened into US-Russian deals on the ground. Before Trump had finished his first week in the White House, US warplanes had escorted a Russian air strike against ISIS in Syria.

This rush of events injects further urgency into Netanyahu forthcoming talks with the US president.  Whereas in the second term of the Obama presidency, the Israeli leader was wont to travel to Moscow or Sochi to sort out security problems relating to Syria, henceforth he must directly engage Donald Trump as the lead player.

So when the Israeli premier travels to the White House next month, he will have to address four pressing concerns, all relating to the fast-moving Syrian scene:

1. Will Washington and Moscow go through with the expulsion from Syria of Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hizballah – and take it all the way until it is accomplished?

2. After they are gone, who will take over the areas they evacuate?

3. Will Bashar Assad stay on as president, or has his successor been nominated?

4. The most burning question of all is the level of Hizballah’s armament. Not only must Hizballah forces be pushed out of Syria, but it is essential to strip them of their sophisticated new weaponry, including missiles. Israel’s military and security chiefs assess Hizballah’s arsenal as having been upgraded in recent weeks to a level that directly impinges on Israel’s security.

Trump’s team is on point

December 14, 2016

Trump’s team is on point, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, December 14, 2016

(Please see also, Trump picked Tillerson for tough new Iran policy. — DM)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, comes from outside the State Department, just like Colin Powell did under former U.S. President George W. Bush. There is one thing that should be noted, however: starting Jan. 20, both the U.S. president and the secretary of state will be outsiders, without political or diplomatic backgrounds. Get ready for changes and Washington-style inventions, like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Tillerson comes to the State Department with 40 years’ experience in a multinational company, ExxonMobil. For the past decade, Tillerson, who knows the world, has served as head of the company. It’s hard to say that an inexperienced person has been appointed secretary of state. Even Henry Kissinger had less international experience than Tillerson when he was appointed to the role, unless you count the number of foreign students he taught at Harvard.

Some will say that the appointment of Tillerson is problematic, especially for Israel: first of all, because of his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin; secondly, because of his close ties with the Gulf states; and third, because the former candidates for Trump’s secretary of state (former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and even former Governor Mitt Romney) are considered more pro-Israel.

Let’s start with Russia: Tillerson might be a Putin favorite, but we can also assume this means he will always find a sympathetic ear at the Kremlin. What’s bad about that? The Obama administration sought to improve ties with Russia and was even responsible for a reboot in relations between Washington and Moscow. That reboot was so “successful” that at times we thought that Russia had resurrected the Soviet Union. We can assume that when Tillerson is in charge at the State Department, things will change. We can also assume that the president-elect and Tillerson will support the removal of sanctions currently in place against the Russians. Offered honey that sweet, the Russian bear will become much less irritable, and might continue strengthening ties with Israel.

Moving on to the Gulf states: Tillerson has worked for oil giants, so it’s obvious that he was in close contact with the Sunni Arab producers. The Gulf states, which like Iran about as much as Israel does, will explain to him that Tehran is a danger, not an opportunity. He’ll hear exactly the same thing in Jerusalem.

What tipped the scales in his favor, for Trump, was the fact that Tillerson knows how to close deals. Unlike former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he won’t fly around the world just to try to move things along; he will get on a plane to solve problems. And possibly even help the movers get the embassy equipment from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A new president, a new team, a new age.

Israel’s PM seeks role in Russian-US duo in Syria

June 6, 2016

Israel’s PM seeks role in Russian-US duo in Syria, DEBKAfile, June 6, 2016

PutinBibi2-480 (1)

During his 48-hour trip to Moscow (Monday and Tuesday June 6-7), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will try and talk President Vladimir Putin into cutting Israel into the military teamwork evolving between Washington and Moscow for combating the Islamic State in Syria. As a quid pro quo, he will offer to elevate Moscow to senior broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with Moscow or Geneva selected as the venue for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, if they occur – and with US participation. Netanyahu is also keen on a role for Egypt’s Presidents Abdek-Fattah al-Sisi.

DEBKAfile sources in Jerusalem and Moscow report exclusively that the floating of this deal was the reason why Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov abstained from attending the Mid East conference staged last weekend by France’s President Francois Hollande in Paris. The UK and German foreign ministers followed the Russian lead and stayed away.

And Friday, June 3, on the day of the Paris meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikihail Bogdanov, who is in charge of Kremlin Middle East policy, offered a formula for resolving the problem of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  That formula was very similar to the land swaps plan proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman a few years ago.

It consisted essentially of the transfer to the Palestinian state of parts of Israel with dense Arab populations, in return for Palestinian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.

In comments to Tass news service, Bogdanov said that Moscow is willing to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, and also offered to mediate between the rival Palestinian factions, including Abu Mazen’s Fatah and the radical Hamas which rules the aza Strip.

While some Israeli politicians see the French initiative as offering President Barack Obama a handle for settling accounts with PM Netanyahu before he leaves the White House at the end of the year, Moscow and Jerusalem are concocting a parallel strategy – not merely to block the Franco-American move, but also to lift Washington’s drive for an Israeli-Palestinian accord from Paris to Moscow.

DEBKAfile sources say that this maneuver is based on the early stages of military and political coordination between Washington and Moscow in the Syrian arena, including the fight against ISIS.

No such coordination exists between Washington and Paris.

Netanyahu envisages the tightening military cooperation between Russia and Israel for Syria, along with Israel’s active participation in the airstrikes against ISIS, as becoming integral to American-Russian understandings, and extending also to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Moscow and Jerusalem both estimate that an offer of US-Russian-Arab guarantees to the Palestinians, underwritten by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, can move the negotiations forward.

Netanyahu to battle Obama, Putin over the Golan

April 17, 2016

Netanyahu to battle Obama, Putin over the Golan, DEBKAfile, April 16, 2016

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The Israeli cabinet holds its weekly session Sunday April 17, on the Golan. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will visit Moscow on Thursday, April 21 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to launch the most important battle of his political career, and one of Israel’s most decisive contests of the last 10 years: the battle over the future of the Golan Heights.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources and its sources in Moscow report exclusively that Israel’s top political leaders and military commanders were stunned and shocked last weekend when they found out that US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to support the return of the Golan to Syria. The two presidents gave their top diplomats, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the green light to include such a clause in a proposal being drafted at the Geneva conference on ending the Syrian civil war.

Israel captured the Golan from the Syrian army 49 years ago, during the Six-Day War in 1967 after the Syrian army invaded Israel.

In 1981, during the tenure of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel passed a law defining the Golan as a territory under Israeli sovereignty. However, it did not state that the area belongs to Israel.

While Israel was preparing for a diplomatic battle over the future of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Obama and Putin decided to deal a diplomatic blow to Israel and Netanyahu’s government on an unexpected issue, the Golan.

It is part of an endeavor by the two powers to use their diplomatic and military cooperation regarding Syria to impose agreements on neighboring countries, such as Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

For example, Washington and Moscow are trying to impose an agreement regarding the granting of independence to Syrian Kurds, despite Ankara’s adamant opposition. The two presidents are also pressuring Riyadh and Amman to accept the continuation of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule, at least for the immediate future.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that just like the other diplomatic or military steps initiated by Obama and Putin in Syria, such as those for Assad’s eventual removal from power, the two powers see a resolution of the Golan issue as a gradual process that may take a long time, perhaps even years. But as far as they are concerned, Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan at the end of that process.

It should be noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not traveling to Washington to discuss the Golan issue with Obama. The frequent trips by the prime minister, senior officials and top IDF brass to Moscow in recent months show where the winds are blowing in the Middle East.

However, Moscow is not Washington, and Israel has no lobby in the Russian capital defending its interests.

It should be made very clear that the frequent trips by senior Israeli officials to Moscow have not created an Israeli policy that can influence Putin or other senior members of the Russian leadership. Putin has made occasional concessions to Israel on matters of minimal strategic importance, but on diplomatic and military steps regarding Syria and Iran he has shown little consideration of Jerusalem’s stance.

It should also be noted that there has been no basis for the enthusiasm over the Russian intervention in Syria shown by Netanyahu, Israeli ministers and senior IDF officers.

All of the calls by a number of Russia experts, mainly those of DEBKAfile, for extreme caution in ties with Putin have fallen on deaf ears among the political leadership in Jerusalem and the IDF command in Tel Aviv.
Amid these developments, three regional actors are very pleased by Washington and Moscow’s agreement to demand Israeli withdrawal from the Golan: Syrian President Assad, the Iranian leadership in Tehran and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Amid these developments, three regional actors are very pleased by Washington and Moscow’s agreement to demand Israeli withdrawal from the Golan: Syrian President Assad, the Iranian leadership in Tehran and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Now, they do not need to risk a military confrontation with Israel over the Golan because Obama and Putin have essentially agreed to do the dirty work for them.