So far the superior maneuvering is indisputably that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s far from clear which long-term strategy, if any, is pursued by his American counterpart Barak Obama.
Again, after an extended absence, Russia looms as the Mideast’s imposing hegemon – one whose self-interests determine who will prevail and who will fail.
Historically the now-defunct Soviet Union used to describe this region as “adjacent to our southern borders.” This contention presumably facilitated the claim that the Mideast is essential for the USSR’s security and thus may be annexed to Moscow’s sphere of pseudo-legitimate influence. It’s still the same.
Concomitantly Obama is doing his utmost to disengage from the very spheres that Russia covets and Putin helped push Obama in that direction. In 2013 he swayed Obama not to react militarily to Bashar Assad’s use of gas against his own people but allow Assad to relinquish his chemical stockpiles. Obama was only too eager to be offered a way out even if Assad continued butchering Syria’s civilians by other means.
Then came the deal on Iran’s nukes where Moscow again coaxed Washington into an ultra-conciliatory stance to avoid confrontation. The Russian foothold in Syria’s port of Latakia is tangible fallout from Obama’s miscalculation on Iran.
Iran was propelled to the forefront as a regional power, operating in chummy collusion with Russia to prop up Assad in an ostensible anti-terrorist alliance. Its details were finalized last July, hot on the heels of the deal to lift sanctions off the ayatollah regime in return for a supposed slowdown of Teheran’s nuclear program.
Qassem Soleimani, chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force, flew twice to Moscow for consultations with Putin in flagrant violation of an international travel ban for masterminding terror. Obama kept mum. Moreover, the Obama-enabled nuke deal bestowed a huge financial windfall on Iran and it allowed Soleimani to go on a spending spree on behalf of Hezbollah that functions as Assad’s lifeline.
Shortly thereafter Putin began shipping tanks, armored personnel carriers and more to Syria. That was followed by fighter jets and an emergent Russian-manned airbase.
The White House reacted with bewilderment, then pooh-poohed whatever Russia was up to and lastly gave Putin leeway. Right before Obama’s eyes a three-way military axis – comprising Russia, Iran and Assad’s Hezbollah proxy – audaciously manifested itself.
The fact that Iran is finally off the American/Western nuclear hook and is flushed with cash made this unabashed partnership with Moscow possible. Russia, let’s not forget, is Iran’s primary weapons purveyor and builder of its nuclear facilities. It made sure that Iran would be treated indulgently during the recent nuclear negotiations.
In all, Iran is emboldened as never before and Putin is heartened by Obama’s phlegmatic response. One superpower – America – appears in retreat, whereas a reawakening Russia regains prominence.
The itineraries of a significant number of Mideastern leaders include Moscow – Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is only one. Also travelling to Moscow are potentates from such unlikely ally countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Morocco, Jordan and of course Egypt, which was unaccountably jilted by Obama.
Putin even plans a visit to Riyadh. All this speaks volumes. All this did not occur behind Washington’s back.
The danger to Israel isn’t only that Iran can now openly become a key player in Syria. Willy-nilly, an abysmally outmaneuvered America – which already tacitly acquiesces to Iran’s ongoing nuclear project – might henceforth also tacitly acquiesce to escalating Iranian aggression throughout the entire Middle East.
That aggression will be indirectly funded by the resources Obama has consented to release and by the vast business opportunities he steers to Teheran. Means that America makes available and unimpeded Russian ambition will thus not only ensure Assad’s survival but will also further arm Hezbollah and Hamas.
Netanyahu’s conversation with Putin didn’t really center on military coordination with Russia on our doorstep but on Netanyahu’s warnings that Israel can’t allow a massively reinforced Hezbollah menace.