Col. Lerman of JISS: Down the road, what the Iranians want to do in Syria and what the Russians want to do in Syria are two totally different things.
Israel Hayom, 26.08.2019
Contrary to popular perception, Russia would also like to see the Iranians leave Syria, and Israel’s attacks on Iranian targets in the country serve this mutual interest.
“Putin would prefer the Iranians not be in Syria, but he doesn’t have the ability to get them out of there,” Dr. Eran Lerman, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Affairs and former deputy of Foreign Policy and International Affairs at the National Security Council.
“True, the Russians and the Iranians had common interests in maintaining [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s rule, and they cooperated,” he says, but they have conflicting ambitions for the future.
“Down the road, what the Iranians want to do in Syria and what the Russians want to do in Syria are two totally different things.”
While the Iranians want to use Syria as a base for attacking Israel, the Russians want to use it in order to restore their status as a regional power, and they have no intention of cooperating with the ambitions of the fundamentalist Islamist republic.
According to Lerman, Israel has taken full advantage of this situation.
“Step by step, we entered the crack [in Iran-Russia ties] and elegantly expanded it. One day after a widespread military attack on Iranian assets in May of 2018, the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] was the guest of honor at ceremonies marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in Russia. What message does that send to the Iranians?”
Another testament to the rift in ties can be found in a report in Arab media outlets this week, according to which Assad has relayed to Russia he is “not pleased” with Iran’s establishment in Syria.
Israel’s attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, it turns out, also serve the Kremlin’s interests. And these are quite a few of them: According to former Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, Israel attacked various Hezbollah, Revolutionary Guard and Syrian military targets nearly 100 times between 2012 and 2017.
This explanation goes against the conventional view, according to which Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran are on the same page when it comes to Syria, and the Israeli airstrikes are a sort of “credit” Putin “releases” every once in a while to allow it to maintain its security.
Coordination with Russia began in September 2015, when Assad’s army appeared to be on the brink of collapse, and Russia decided to get involved in the war, sending ground forces, fighter jets, and most importantly, anti-aircraft missile batteries, to the war-torn country.
These developments obligated Israel to reorganize its systems. In a meeting between Netanyahu and Putin on Sept. 30, 2015, it was decided to establish a mechanism for coordinating between the two countries in order to, as Netanyahu put it, “prevent there being any misunderstanding between our forces.”
Around one month later, the Russian military announced a “mechanism for intelligence sharing via a ‘hotline’ has been established between Russian Air Force Headquarters in Syria’s Latakia area and Israeli Air Force Headquarters.”
This strategic coordination was taken up a notch at a security summit held between Israel, the United States, and Russia in Jerusalem in June, and the activity on the ground has proven to be a success thus far.
by Akiva Bigman, Israel Hayom, 26.08.2019