Russia’s Power Play in the Middle East

Seeking to explain how Vladimir Putin has extended his country’s influence throughout the Middle East—with arms sales, energy investments, and of course the military intervention in Syria—Vance Serchuk compares his strategy with that employed, mutatis mutandis, by Henry Kissinger during and after the Yom Kippur War. By showing its willingness and ability to support its ally Israel during that conflict, the U.S. established itself as the powerbroker between the warring parties, demonstrated that Moscow could not be counted upon for effective support, and eventually brought Egypt into the American camp in the cold war. Serchuk writes:

This, in fact, is much the same calculus that Putin has applied to the Syrian civil war since its outbreak. . . . Of course, there is no moral equivalence between Washington’s steadfast defense of its democratic ally Israel under threat of annihilation in 1973 and Putin’s rescue of one of the world’s most brutal dictators from a popular uprising demanding basic freedoms. . . .

[But] by backing Assad to the hilt, Putin could showcase the inability of American power to achieve its declared objective and therefore ensure its progressive irrelevance to the U.S. allies in the Middle East that had, like Washington, hitched themselves to Bashar al-Assad’s ouster. At the same time, by becoming indispensable to the Syrian dictator’s survival, Putin positioned himself to be the most important factor not only for the regime in Damascus but also, in time, for its stymied opponents.

Today, Putin’s intervention in Syria has similarly situated Russia so that it is closer to each of the Middle East’s contestants than any of them are to each other. . . . Last year senior Russian leaders similarly made a show of flying directly from Tehran to Tel Aviv, according to senior Israeli officials, subtly demonstrating their capacity for precisely the kind of shuttle diplomacy that Kissinger made his stock-in-trade after the Yom Kippur War.

But, Serchuk goes on to argue, Putin—despite wishful thinking in both Jerusalem and Washington—won’t use his influence to restrain the Islamic Republic, as demonstrated by his swift reneging on his promises to Israel that he would keep Iranian forces from its borders:

[W]hile Russia has been content to let the Israelis keep the Iranians in check through a campaign of airstrikes in Syria, its interest is in establishing a kind of equilibrium there—with itself at the center. Even if Russia were able to expel Iranian forces entirely from the country—a dubious proposition, given its light military footprint—actually doing so would diminish the Kremlin’s importance at the heart of this new Levantine order. It would also put the burden of preserving Assad in power exclusively on Moscow. Both are contrary to Russia’s self-interest.

Read more at National Review

More about: Henry Kissinger, Israeli Security, Middle East, Russia, Syrian civil war

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security