During his visit to Moscow, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed to President Putin his concerns about wider regional security along Israel’s northern border and how to avoid accidental clashes between Israel and Russian forces supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria : Do we assist in a new era of Middle East Geopolitics?
Even though the Russia-Syria partnership has long been a crucial dynamic to the ongoing Syrian Civil War, uncertainty has persisted regarding the precise extent to which Moscow has involved itself in the crisis militarily.
Basically, forces confronting Isil and other terrorist groups in the Middle East, at the moment, they all need to coordinate their military and political actions. That’s because if military involvement must take place in order to find out a solution in the Syrian mess crisis, Russia or Israel should have to ensure that they will not jeopardize the fragile security in the wider Middle East region. This is what Israel asks for at this moment.
Netanyahu’s short visit to Moscow on Monday follows concern in Israel that the ongoing Russian military buildup will threaten its defence, through fears that Russian-supplied weapons will end up in the hands of Hezbollah, fighting in Syria on Assad’s side, and because it will make it more difficult for Israeli aircraft to strike there.
“As you know, in recent years and even more so in recent months, Iran and Syria have been arming the radical terrorist organisation Hezbollah with advanced weapons, which are aimed at us,” Netanyahu said. “Meanwhile, Iran, as the benefactor of the Syrian army, is trying to build a second terror front against us from the Golan. Our policy is to thwart the flow of these weapons, and to prevent the establishment of a new terror front and attacks against us from the Golan.
A new Russian strategy
Moscow’s controversial decision to increase its presence in Syria can be attributed to President Bashar al-Assad’s increasingly weakened position. The embattled President now only controls about a quarter of Syria’s original territory, and Russia has a significant interest in keeping him in power.
Russia’s interest is not only due to Syria’s utility as a partner and base of operations for Moscow in the Middle East, but also because radical Islam may spread into Russia’s under-regulated extremities in the event of a Syrian collapse.
At the center of Putin’s build up is the construction of a new Russian air base in the Syrian port city of Latakia, discovered via satellite imagery earlier this month. The new base will be used to support Russian air operations out of Syria, providing Moscow a notable boost in Middle East military capabilities and serving as a hub of operations for its pro-Syrian efforts.
Israel and Russia have a complex and fluid relationship as stated on Stratfor’s website Each continually meddles in the other’s back yard. Israel has a deep military and security relationship with many former Soviet states, and Russia has long politically and militarily backed Syria and Iran.
However, the two countries have been known to exchange favors when needed. Three days before Russia launched its war in Georgia in 2008, Israel officially froze all military sales to Georgia. The week after the five-day war concluded, Syrian President Bashar al Assad traveled to Moscow and failed to secure a highly anticipated arms deal with Russia.
Moscow would likely want Israel to trade something in return for any concessions. :Israeli defense contractors have been crawling all over Ukraine, training Ukrainian forces and privately establishing volunteer units to fight Russian-backed separatists in the east. Another point of contention is Israel’s freeze on drone and other military sales to Russia because of the Ukraine crisis. As in 2008, Russia may be interested in leveraging a deal with Israel.
Russia has timed its expanded involvement in Syria to gain leverage against what it considers its chief rival: the United States. Relations between the United States and Russia are at one of their lowest ebbs since the end of the Cold War. Discussions between Washington and Moscow over issues such as Ukraine and sanctions are intermittent and occur at a mid-to-low level, save communications between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart John Kerry. One of Russia’s primary objectives is to position itself in Syria so that the United States has to resume regular talks with Russia.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a 50-minute conversation and decided to resume defense talks, including discussions about Syria. It was their first exchange in more than a year.
Trying to understand Russia’s role in the Syrian Mess
The Syrian mess
Over four years into this war, Assad’s forces have held, but his position is deteriorating. The Syrian Army has lost ground over the past year to an assortment of jihadist forces that includes the Islamic State, al Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra), Ahrar al Sham, and all the sorts of Syrian opposition fighters (and many of these groups are, of course, fighting each other). His forces do not have the manpower to resist all of these groups, and are being squeezed steadily into a narrower strip of territory running alongside Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.
Efforts at political settlement have gone nowhere over a fundamental disagreement between the two external coalitions backing differing horses in Syria:
- Russia and Iran versus the United States, Turkey, and some Gulf states.
The U.S. starting position has been that Assad must first resign for negotiations on settlement to go anywhere, while the Russian position is that excising him from power is an unacceptable pre-condition for political settlement.
Moscow probably has little love for Assad, but like Iran, is unwilling to give up its chief ally in the region. Trading him out was unpalatable four years ago, but given the alternative now is effectively one or more of the three main jihadist groups, it is unclear why Russia and Iran would ever agree to push Assad aside.
Israeli airstrikes have taken place all these years according to Jerusalem Post
Referring to foreign reports, JPost writes that the Israel Air Force has launched multiple air strikes in recent years to intercept Iranian and Syrian weapons that were on the way to Hezbollah storage facilities in Lebanon.
During the meeting of IDF and Russian Military chiefs,Israel has shared concerns with Russia that it’s interceptions could be compromised if military coordination is not put into place soon.
The two sides agreed to set up a joint working group led by the deputy chiefs of staff from each country. According to sources the joint working group will coordinate air, naval, and the electromagnetic arenas.
On September 10, a senior defense source (IDF)said that an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp force, comprised of hundreds of soldiers, recently entered Syria to assist the embattled Assad regime. In a coordinated Iranian-Russian maneuver, Russian logistics military forces began to arrive to Syria’s coastal region to set up a base for Russian fighter jets and combat helicopters.
Tehran dispatched its force “in light of Assad’s” ongoing distress, the source stated, adding that the deployment is part of a wider Russian-Iranian coordinated effort to prevent what remains of the Assad regime from collapsing.
A prominent pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon reported Tuesday that Russia and the terrorist organization have formed an alliance and will fight together in Syria. “The parties to the alliance are the states of Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah as the fifth party,” Al-Akhbar Editor in Chief Ibrahim al-Amin wrote. The pact would be called the “4+1 alliance”—a pun based on the P5+1 that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran. Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran based in Lebanon and Moscow has been working with Tehran to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even sending men and weapons to Syria.
Al-Akhbar says Russia coordinating with Hezbollah, Kurdish forces
Despite the reported agreement between Tel Aviv and Moscow, Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief said that Russian forces were coordinating with Hezbollah in Syria.
“[Several] days ago, Russian officers accompanied by specialists… from the Russian forces arriving in Syria toured a number of positions in Hama’s Al-Ghab Plain area and carried out a field survey accompanied by Syrian Army and Hezbollah officers,” Amin claimed.
“Similar tours took place in the [areas] around Idlib and in the mountain range overlooking Latakia.”
“It has become clear that the Russian force is made up of various specializations, from air force [units] to units specialized in sniper operations and artillery officers, as well as survey and observation teams.”
He also made the startling claim that Russia will “play a prominent role on the ground and will participate in combat on the battlefield with their advanced weaponry by leading operations and taking part in artillery shelling, air [raids] and otherwise, alongside the Syrian army and Hezbollah.”
Russia Expands Fleet in Syria With Jets That Can Attack Targets on Ground
During the weekend of 19th-21st of September, Russia deployed a dozen Su-24 Fencer and a dozen Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack planes, bringing to 28 the number of warplanes at the base, a senior United States official said early this week instead of the only combat planes there had been four Flanker air-to-air fighters.
The planes are protected by at least two or possibly three SA-22 surface-to-air, antiaircraft systems, and unarmed Predator-like surveillance drones are being used to fly reconnaissance missions. Israel fears that the SA-22 might fall into wrong hands!
The additional attack planes — comparable to the jets the United States and its allies are flying against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq — have heightened fears within the Pentagon and in European capitals about the risk of an inadvertent confrontation between Russia’s military and the American-led coalition according to NYTimes.
Mr Putin acknowledged attacks by Hezbollah, however, and said it was important to prevent the transfer of weapons to the organization. Iran has long supplied Hezbollah through Syria.
Mr. Putin said Moscow condemned those attacks but emphasized that the weapons used were not Russian. “As far as I know, these attacks are carried out using improvised missile systems,” he said.
Israel has been able to bomb suspected convoys to Hezbollah with impunity since the uprising against Mr. Assad’s government turned into a civil war in 2011, forcing Syria to concentrate on the internal threat.
Risks of the new Russian Strategy
Although ISIS represents an unquestionable threat to the safety of innocent Syrian civilians, Assad’s regime has remained responsible for 75% of all civilian deaths in 2015(NYTimes) — the majority of which have been carried out by his indiscriminating air force. The clearest way to bring an end to this has been for the United States to implement a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace.
“Continued military support for the regime by Russia or any other country risks the possibility of attracting more extremists and entrenching Assad, and hinders the way for resolution,” said John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
— Ahram Online (@ahramonline) 24 Septembre 2015
With Russia’s planned air operations, such a policy is highly unlikely, as a Western imposed restriction on aircraft in Syria would now require the targeting of Russian aircraft. President Putin’s direct assistance to the Assad regime all but ensures a persistent hesitancy from the West to act, as any actions against the Syrian dictator would now involve some form of hybrid warfare against Moscow. As a result, the Syrian crisis will continue into the foreseeable future, Europe’s refugee conundrum will only intensify in severity, and instability in the Middle East will persist even after the subduing of ISIS.
— Velina Tchakarova (@vtchakarova) 21 Septembre 2015
— Just A Nobody (@JustANobody2) 15 Septembre 2015