Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed Wednesday, Sept. 16, that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would pay a “short working visit and hold talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, Sept. 21.” The announcement from the Prime Minister’s Bureau in Jerusalem was somewhat more informative: “The Prime Minister will express his views on the threat to Israel as a result of the deliveries of modern weaponry to Syria due to the possibility that they could end up in the hands of Hizballah or other terrorist organizations.”
If that is to be the sole topic of their talks, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources doubt the prime minister will accomplish anything much, outside of a polite exchange of views.
Putin will not remove the Russian troops and advanced weaponry which giant Antonov-24 Condors have been landing in Syria since the last week of August. These deliveries have been planned down to the last detail in coordination with Tehran – as Moscow’s rejoinder for US President Barack Obama’s cherished nuclear deal with Iran. Tehran has not only refrained from endorsing the accord, but has joined Moscow in a move to outmaneuver Washington in the Middle East by a major military buildup in Syria.
Putin will no doubt parrot Obama in assuring Netanyahu of Russia’s abiding commitment to Israel’s security. But he will not waver in his steps for strengthening Iran’s foothold in Syria, any more than Obama has.
The enhancement of President Bashar Assad’s military capabilities by an injection of sophisticated weapons is part and parcel of Putin’s project, and a share of those arms will undoubtedly be allotted to Assad’s ally, Hizballah.
Lacking most of all is a consensus on which terrorist organizations pose the paramount threat. For Obama, it is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS; for Netanyahu, ISIS and Hizballah are equally dangerous; whereas Putin lumps ISIS and other Syrian Islamist rebel groups in the same category, especially the Nusra Front, which has Russian Chechen recruits and therefore poses a direct threat to Moscow.
With Washington and Moscow at odds over which terrorist organizations should be fought first, Netanyahu is unlikely to get a serious hearing from his hosts in Moscow.
For months now, Russia and Iran have been laying the groundwork for their intensified military collaboration in Syria. Last April, Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani visited Moscow to promote the scheme. Four months earlier, in Dec. 2014, the Kremlin’s Middle East expert Mikhail Bogdanov held talks in Beirut with Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.
All this leaves Netanyahu with a narrow corridor for making headway in Moscow.
According to our sources, he will press for the Israeli Air Force to continue to have a free hand in Syrian skies for dealing with threats. Coordination between the Israeli Air Force and the Russian Air Force command located at Jablah near the western Syrian port of Latakia, would need to be established to prevent inadvertent collisions between Russia and Israeli warplanes.
This sort of coordination has been tacitly approved between Washington and Moscow to enable the US to continue to conduct air strikes against ISIS in Syria.
But the Israeli case is more complex in view of the multiplicity of its enemies: Israel requires a free hand to strike targets in Syria of its declared foes, Iran and Hizballah, when necessary to distance them from its borders. On this, Putin may well dig in his heels.
Another issue which may come up in their talks in six days’ time is Israel’s Mediterranean gas field, in which the Russian leader has expressed an interest. Since the projected Israel-Turkish pipeline for exporting the gas to Europe will verge on the economic water zones of Lebanon and Syria, Russia is the only power realistically capable or providing it with military protection.