A new concern is preoccupying Israel’s strategists in recent weeks. On top of the al Qaeda fighting strength gathering around its borders, they are beginning to worry about the high momentum with which Russian President Vladimir Putin is capitalizing on America’s withdrawal from the Middle East. Moscow is working through military pacts with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian strongman and future president, Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to dramatically deepen its regional foothold. This and Putin's powerful personal backing for the two figures already have serious repercussions.
The Iran-Syrian-Hizballah alignment is making diplomatic gains. Tehran is stiffening its bargaining position and begrudging nuclear concessions in the current negotiations with the Six Powers. The knock-on effect on the Syrian crisis was clearly visible in Geneva on Saturday, Feb. 15, when the talks on a political settlement crashed before ending their third round.
In Beijing meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Friday that Obama was concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Syria and also by the fact that peace talks between the opposition and government had not produced a discussion of a transitional government as planned. President Barack Obama has asked “all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist [for the Syrian crisis,]” Kerry said. Have they been presented? He was asked. “No, they have not,” he said.
The top US diplomat was perfectly aware, like everyone else, that Obama has no intention of conducting even the most minor US intervention in Syria war and has opted to leave a clear field in that doomed country to President Putin.
This hands-off policy has not only given the Russian president free rein to advance his interests, but further empowered Syrian ruler Bashar Assad to exercise his will on his suffering people undisturbed.
One of Assad’s most prominent characteristics is his ability to be beholden to no one – even Moscow, which supplies all his war needs even more generously than Iran. Assad goes along with Putin only when it suits his agenda, but is never in his pocket.
This was demonstrated in the breakdown of the Geneva conference - for which UN Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was forced to apologize Saturday. Assad flatly refused to accept a transitional government in Damascus in defiance of the advice pressed on him by the Russian president.
That fiasco also bankrupted the policies John Kerry managed for the Obama administration, which hinged heavily on Putin’s success in extracting from Assad enough flexibility to satisfy minimal US requirements.
So Putin failed to deliver the goods and Assad continued to wage his hideous war – a double setback for Washington, because White House policy-makers failed to appreciate that Assad and Putin each had their own agendas which were not uniformly in sync.
A similar relationship may be evolving between Cairo and Damascus.
This week, Egypt’s future president Defense Minister Gen. El-Sisi was in Moscow to sign a large transaction for the purchase of Russian arms. According to some estimates it is worth $2 billion; others put the figure as high as $3 billion.
Advanced Russian missiles and warplanes – and most likely S-300 anti-missile batteries – will flow into the Egyptian army’s arsenals for its two interlinked wars on the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed as a terrorist organization after its overthrow from power, and on the al Qaeda jihadists entrenched in Sinai.
These terrorists are hand in glove with the Brotherhood for striking Egyptian military and government targets and also in close coordination with Al Qaeda elements in Libya.
Gen. El-Sisi currently treats Israel as a welcome ally, mainly because the Netanyahu government has agreed to overlook key clauses of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in order to give him a free hand in Sinai and supports his campaigns with deep intelligence cooperation.
But the Egyptian strongman's trip to Moscow last week took him a long step away from Washington and an important step closer to Moscow, with incalculable consequences.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources draw certain disquieting parallels:
1. Although widely different in personality and leadership style, El-Sisis and Assad share the same lone rider instinct. They prepare their steps with meticulous care and advance planning for the sake of preserving their independence of action.
Assad’s maneuvers net him all the hardware he needs to fight his war from Russia. El-Sisi has designed his first arms transaction with Moscow to put him on the road to the independent path he seeks on the world and Middle East stages.
2. The Egyptian ruler and his following hold to the political orientation briefly summed up as Nasserist. He knows that Egypt’s fundamental economic woes are incurable, and so he is investing effort in building a strong regime that will promote the Nasserist form of pan-Arab nationalism, with Egypt in the forefront.
This policy may well bring Egypt into collision with the state of Israel, the national manifestation of the Jewish people.
Therefore, in many ways, the Egyptian strongman is an enigma. Neither Washington nor Jerusalem can foresee exactly where he is heading. The Syrian ruler for his part has confounded the most extreme predictions of how far he is willing to go in his pitiless determination to survive.