US and Russia Put Israel on the Spot: You’re on Your Own against Iran in Syria
Instead of being enhanced, Israel’s security situation vis-â-vis Iran in Syria took a steep downward turn in the two weekend conversations Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held – first with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 5 and then with visiting US national security adviser John Bolton on Jan. 6.
As far as Putin was concerned, Moscow has done enough to keep Iranian forces away from the borders of Israel and Jordan and he could not say what more he could do without jeopardizing Russian interests in Syria. He refused to consider granting the Israeli air force more leeway for operating over Syria – even in close coordination with the Russian command on the spot. The Russian president then went back to accusing the Israeli Air Force in the same vein as his defense ministry – namely, that Israel must stop using civilian flights as cover for its operations over Syria against the Russian and Syrian air defense batteries guarding key sites in Syria.
That accusation was first heard from Russian defense officials after Syrian missiles shot down the Russian IL-20 spy plane on Sept. 1. It was repeated on December 28, two days after Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon hit three Iranian targets embedded in Syrian military bases around Damascus. The Russians claimed that this Israeli tactic endangered two civilian aircraft coming into land in Beirut and Damascus.
Due to the all-consuming campaign in Israel for the April 9 election, the change in the Trump administration’s attitude as well as Moscow’s drew little notice.
National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in the airplane bringing him to Israel that before the US withdraws from Syria, “it will make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured and take care of those who fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.”
But the language changed after Bolton sat down with Netanyahu on Sunday, Jan. 6. Addressing a joint press conference in Jerusalem, he said: The US backs Israel’s right to self-defense. The Trump administration will continue to work with Israel to counter the continuing threat of Iran’s quest for deliverable nuclear weapons,” he said. Turning to the prime minister, Bolton added: A nation’s ability to defend itself is the ultimate sovereignty. Any nation inside or outside the region who doubts US support for Israel’s ability to defend itself had better think again.”
What President Donald Trump’s security adviser was telling the Israeli government was that Israel can only count on US assistance if it acts in its own self-defense.
Trump himself laid out this policy on Dec. 27 when he said: “Israel does a fine job of defending itself thanks to aid from the United States, and will be good after US troops leave Syria.” He then said: “I spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I told Bibi, you know we give Israel 4.5 billion dollars a year. And they are doing very well at defending themselves.”
Explicitly addressing the new situation, Netanyahu told a meeting of IDF special operations officers and security executives: “Whereas the US is running the economic war against Iran, Israel is left to take care of the military campaign.”DEBKA Weekly’s sources note that few Israelis picked up on the change of strategy enforced on Israel by the two powers and so no one asked if Israel is really capable of “defending itself” alone against Iran and the armed proxies Tehran is massing in Syria.