Russian President Vladimir Putin took 48 hours off for a Middle East tour. He spent a day and a night – June 25-26 – in Israel before moving on to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. His initiative caused wide puzzlement. What brought him to the region so soon after assuming the presidency?
The impression he left behind was that he would not be at all surprised by a US-European-Arab offensive against Syria, or a US-Israeli attack on Iran. But he sounded as though he was feeling his way past those major upsets for a useful role. Hence the odd proposal he made to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they talked in Jerusalem. Netanyahu was quite bowled over when Putin offered him the use of Moscow as a channel of communication between Jerusalem and Tehran.
Revealing this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources quote the fairly taciturn Russian president as using two phrases – “I will act as conduit” and “when need be.”
Putting these two phrases together, the Israelis followed by the Americans deduced that Putin took into account that a US strike against Iran was approaching, opening up a new field of operation for Moscow.
When one of the Israeli officials present at the Putin-Netanyahu conversation commented that Israelis and Iranians knew exactly what messages were conveyed back and forth by public means, the Russian president remarked drily: "When need be.”
This was interpreted in two ways: 1) He wanted Israel and, more importantly, Washington to know on which side Moscow stood; and 2)., Israel as advised to think twice before turning down the offer of a Russian channel to Tehran, because in a war, it may find President Putin’s office in the Kremlin to be the only line available for transmitting and receiving secret messages to and from Tehran.
Our intelligence sources say that, since Prime Minister Netanyahu neither rejected nor accepted the Russian offer, and President Putin did not rescind it, it stays on the table and is ready to be activated “if need be.”
Russia’s long borders with Muslim lands
In another provocative comment Putin said: “We know better than the Americans what is going on in Tehran and in Iran’s nuclear program.” He did not elaborate.
He not only offered Israel a back channel to Tehran but also touted his services as a broker, more effective than Washington, he claimed, for restoring the old close relationship between Israel and Turkey.
When he expanded on Syria and the Arab Revolt, he made the following points:
1. “Anyone who thinks that what began in Tunis will end in Damascus is mistaken.”
This remark was taken to mean that Moscow will not let the US seize control of the entire Middle East coastline from Libya to Syria by bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
2. Whether or not Syrian President Bashar Assad will fall is no longer interesting because he is obviously heading for a fall. But the way “they” are going is wrong. “It will bring Al Qaeda to Damascus.” And that is why Russia is working hand in hand with Turkey for the sake of an orderly transition of power.
(When he talked to Netanyahu, Putin never mentioned “Americans” – only “they.”)
3. Putin referred to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and its substantial role in the Syrian uprising as “an Islamist flood threatening us all.”
Russia is directly affected, he said. It is the world power closest to the Middle East and has the longest border of any superpower with Muslim countries.
We are witnessing in action an alliance between the US and the Muslim Brotherhood, said the Russian leader
We’ll help you with Erdogan if you cut us in on your oil stake
4. Regarding Iran’s perception of the Arab Revolt, Putin said that by supporting it, Tehran was simply paying lip service to disguise the fact that it feels threatened.
5. He also had a distinctive take on the Six-Power nuclear talks with Iran, in which Russia also took part as one of the six (also the US, France, Britain, China and Germany): He criticized the West as using the wrong approach and language in addressing the Iranians. They are justified in asking the West: Are we sitting together at the negotiating table or are you threatening us (with sanctions)?
Because it is impossible to do both at once, Tehran is not willing to talk, he explained.
6. When the Russian president advocated an Israeli-Turkish rapprochement, he quickly fitted the issue into the context of Israel’s oil and gas strikes in the Mediterranean.
We Russians are ready to help you rebuild your relations with Erdogan, said Putin to Netanyahu, on the basis of a Russian-Israeli-Turkish-Greek-Cypriot partnership in developing those oil and gas fields.
Our only condition is that Gazprom (the Russian energy giant) finance the development of those fields and be awarded the concession for laying the pipelines carrying the gas and oil to Europe.
“Don’t wait for the American, British or Dutch oil majors to come to you,” he said. “They are too heavily invested in Arab oil. We don’t have that problem.”
While some described the Russian leader as relaxed and friendly during his 24 hours in Israel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Jerusalem who heard him speak say the Russian president was terse, extremely decisive and often tough.