By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
This past Monday, all eyes were turned towards Helsinki, where Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held their long-anticipated summit.
A serious bone of contention between the two countries has been the Syrian Civil War, where Russia has been aiding Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while the United States has supported Kurdish rebels and other anti-government forces. The two superpowers have come perilously close to blows at times.
The conference was also hyped in its possible implications for Israel, a key American ally in the Middle East.
But in the end, maybe too much has been made of this meeting -- certainly as far as Israel is concerned. Russia might be offering Israel a grand bargain that Putin believes will meet the interests of the parties involved, without much American input.
Its cornerstone involves keeping Iran at bay in Syria until a total settlement, which would include the withdrawal of the United States (and Turkey), is reached. After that, Moscow will make sure the Iranians -- and Hezbollah -- leave Syria as well.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to agree. On July 11, he made his third visit to Russia this year to see Putin.
The talks revolved around the possibility of an Iranian departure from the country in exchange for Israel not interfering in Assad’s forces in the south of the country, near Israeli territory.
Netanyahu has been pressing Moscow to curb Iranian influence in Syria and has repeatedly warned that Israel will not tolerate a permanent Iranian presence there.
Netanyahu stressed that Israel “has no problem with the Assad regime,” but the main issue includes the presence in Syria of fighters from Hezbollah, the remnant of the Islamic State and Iran.
Russian diplomats have emphasized that there should be no “non-Syrian forces” in the southwest of Syria, near the Israeli border.
Russia has apparently promised to keep Iran within 100 kilometres from the boundary and has already been partially delivering on this commitment.
Moscow still gives Israel needed leeway on Syrian territory, as long as they strike Syrian positions only in retaliation to Syria’s own offenses or when they attack non-Syrian forces.
The very day Netanyahu arrived in Moscow, Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser, delivered what Iran’s foreign ministry called a “very important” message regarding Syria from Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
A few short years ago hardly anyone could imagine that Russia would become the most influential external actor in the region, with everyone now expecting something from Moscow.
Russia is taking into account the security interests of the key players --Turkey, Israel and Iran, contends Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.